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Research project

Corporate food retailers, meat supply chains and the global responsibilities of tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Project overview

This project makes a path-breaking contribution to the agenda for tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by focusing scoping research and significant networking events on a link that has so far been missing from academic and policy debate - the pivotal role of corporate food retailers. The aim of the project is to address the responsibility of retailers in tackling the AMR challenge in the context of their chicken and pork supply chains, and to investigate this evolving role and how it might be shaped in the future, in the UK and at a global scale. Against a backdrop of decades of intensive farming of animals involving the use of antibiotics, it is becoming clearer that while antimicrobials are a necessary tool to maintain health and welfare on the farm, the key issue is their inappropriate and disproportionate use in animals thereby reducing availability for humans. There is food industry-wide concern that this is leading to growing resistance amongst certain bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E-coli, placing pressure on the sector to develop and implement standards for more responsible use.

Supermarket chains are a key set of actors strategically positioned to address the global challenge of reducing antibiotic use in food supply chains and raising consumer awareness as part of tackling AMR. The project will address the role of retailers in navigating the AMR challenge through their overseas as well as their national store networks, and through supply chains that flow through spaces of the global South as well as the North. Specifically, the project addresses this role by proposing scoping research and dissemination events in the UK, where policy leadership is acknowledged and where corporate retail power is well-established. Driving the momentum of the project's policy engagement will be the support of the UK government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a Project Partner facilitating both a pre-project scoping workshop and a dissemination workshop at the end of the research. This reflects close alignment between the project's objectives and the emerging priorities of the FSA.

The objectives of the project are: (i) to map and model the current AMR challenge involving corporate food retailers through their chicken and pork supply chains; (ii) to evaluate current and evolving corporate retail strategies and standards in the UK for reducing antibiotic use in chicken and pork supply chains; (iii) to consider the role of consumer engagement in raising standards for responsible use of antibiotics in farming; and (iv) to facilitate increased dialogue between corporate food retailers and wider institutional policy and scientific networks in the UK, in order to shape future strategy for tackling AMR. These objectives will be met through four project phases conducted over eighteen months and involving both quantitative and qualitative methods that include: the mapping and modelling with trade data of the AMR problem facing UK corporate food retailers in their supply chains; interviews with retailers' food technologists and food standards policy-makers in the UK; and interviews with a sample of UK meat producers.

A project website, a stakeholder report and an end-of-project workshop in London will complement academic publications, in order to communicate the findings of the scoping research to non-academic beneficiaries and to shape evolving strategy regarding corporate food retailers' roles and responsibilities in tackling AMR.

Planned Impact
The aim of the project is to address the responsibility of corporate food retailers in tackling the agricultural dimensions of the antimicrobial resistance (AMR) challenge in the context of their meat supply chains, and to investigate how this role might evolve in the future in the UK. The key groups of beneficiaries are: (i) corporate food retailers; (ii) producers and the trade associations representing them (in particular, in the poultry and pork sectors); (iii) government departments with responsibility for antimicrobial stewardship, including their scientific advisors; and in the longer-term (iv) the general public as consumers of meat products and for whom AMR presents a significant health threat.

In the UK the leading corporate food retailers -Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrison's, the Co-operative, Aldi, Waitrose, Lidl, Marks and Spencer and Iceland - will gain a more comprehensive understanding of the scale of the AMR problem affecting, and affected by, their supply chains. They will also learn about best practice antibiotic stewardship in meat production and the role they can play in supporting this through the management of their supply chains. The project will also help these retailers to formulate strategies for communication of AMR issues to consumers at a time when AMR is fast becoming a major public health issue. By articulating the standards and challenges of antibiotic stewardship, meat producers and their trade associations (The British Poultry Council and the National Pig Association) can also gain by shaping retailers' developing strategies on AMR in ways that are sensitive to the practical challenges they face. And in terms of UK government departments, the Department of Health, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate will benefit from an inclusion of influential corporate retailers more centrally into AMR policies that cover areas of their remit. The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) will particularly benefit in terms of the support that our research and workshops will provide for their policy leadership on AMR issues at a global scale. Engaging the retail sector in the topic of AMR is a key priority for the FSA through debate on how new technologies and new understanding of the potential flows and reservoirs of AMR can be addressed through governance of the food retail industry. Our project will support the FSA in framing AMR-related policy work in the UK, and will support its role in leading and hosting a physical working group for the Global Food Standard body, Codex Alimentarius. That group aims to shape international standards for the use of antimicrobials and the monitoring of their use.


Other researchers

Professor Charles Keevil

Professor In Environmental Health Care
Connect with Charles

Professor Emma Roe

Professor of More-Than-Human Geographies
Connect with Emma

Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups

Research outputs

Alex Hughes, Emma Roe & Suzanne Hocknell, 2021, Environment and Planning A, 53(6), 1373-1390
Type: article