Aegon has put its investment power behind a $2 trillion coalition to tackle antibiotic resistance, an issue that Aegon Engagement Manager, Natalie Benisch, suggests, “could become as big as global warming in the coming years.”
It's an opinion shared by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has warned that irresponsible antibiotics practices are leading the world towards a 'post-antibiotic era' where routine operations will no longer be possible and many infections no longer treatable.
Academic research has established that the use of antibiotics in livestock is causing the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria which can spread to humans, and that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are transferring between humans and animals more frequently than initially thought.
The coalition has been brought together by the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) Initiative and responsible investment charity ShareAction, with the support of US investor group ICCR and US non-profit As You Sow.
For Aegon, this initiative is a way to further participate in preventing some of the biggest global threats of the near future. "This societal issue shares a number of common characteristics with global warming. It's a problem that people know about, the speed at which it is happening is frightening, and increased antibiotic resistance affects everyone, wherever they are in the world," says Beinisch.
Aegon sees the coalition as an opportunity to work with the industry on a coordinated policy framework, that's thoroughly thought through, using the expertise of FAIRR and members of the coalition.
In a report published today by FAIRR, the coalition highlighted ten of the biggest US and UK restaurant chains, calling for an end to non-therapeutic use of antibiotics important to human health in their global meat and poultry supply chains.
Responses showed that progress has been made in the last year, but there is still way to go:
- 70% of companies have now adopted either a comprehensive or partial policy to prohibit use in poultry, up from 50% in March 2016.
- 80% of companies report they are now actively engaging with suppliers to monitor antibiotic usage.
- None of the companies surveyed have developed fully comprehensive, publicly available antibiotics policies to cover their entire livestock supply chain.
Risk for both global health and economy
Around half of all antibiotics produced in the UK are given to livestock, with the figure rising to 80% in the US; a practice the UK government recently described as 'excessive and inappropriate' in a paper which found that drug-resistant infections could cost the world around $100trillion in lost output by 2050.
As a global insurance and asset management company, these are risks that Aegon takes very seriously. "To protect against threats to the financial health of our clients, we also need to care about physical threats to public health," says Beinisch.
"This is why Aegon takes a proactive approach to the management of health-related risks. Antibiotic resistance is one of the most serious emerging global health risks and to help defend against such an enormous threat, we are encouraging fast food chains to reduce the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics important to human health in their global meat and poultry supply chains. FAIRR is rightly urging the restaurant sector to take action to counter this trend."