In 2013 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that each year at least two million people in the United States become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and that at least 23,000 people die because of these infections. In 2014 the World Health Organization reported that antibiotic resistance is “no longer a prediction for the future, but it’s happening right now” and that without corrective action the world will be moving soon towards a “post‐antibiotic” era, in which common infections that have been treatable for decades would be able to kill again.
Once, drugs such as penicillin and streptomycin could fight off most infections but now those same infections have developed resistance and the drugs are losing their effectiveness. This decrease in these drugs’ effectiveness can be directly linked to their overuse. In fact, as strains of bacteria are increasingly exposed to antibiotics they tend to develop a resistance to them and to pass this resistance on to new generations of bacteria.
In the U.S., raising livestock accounts for 70% of the antibiotic use as antibiotics are regularly fed to animals, not because they are sick, but to avoid diseases that can result from being confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions and to increase weight. This overuse of antibiotics could be avoided by simply bettering the conditions in which the animals are raised and by finding alternatives to antibiotics to promote weight gain. These changes will happen only when consumers, retailers and restaurants demand them, as they are starting to do. In the last six months several food companies, most recently Panera, announced that they will eliminate a variety of artificial ingredients from their foods and stop serving meat from animals raised with antibiotics. This is a step in the right direction with the potential to influence the restaurant and fast food industries as a whole.
At Domini we tend not to invest in many restaurant and fast food companies – largely due to these concerns. We also work to avoid investment in companies that derive significant revenues from operating factory farms and instead pursue investment in companies that are transparent about how they raise their animals and can demonstrate, through data, that they have a sustainable approach to farming.