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How — And Why — We're Curbing Use of Key Antibiotics in Our Supply Chains

August 4, 2020

Antibiotics have been used to treat and prevent disease in both animals and humans since their advent in the 1930s. But as their use expanded across the globe, experts began to worry about the potential impact of both doctors and veterinarians overprescribing certain drugs. In the world of agriculture, concerns grew that giving key medications to healthy farm animals could lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. These concerns have prompted consumers, governments and other stakeholders to call for stricter antibiotic controls and the elimination, on the farm, of drugs deemed most critical for human medicine.

OSI fully supports and engages in the responsible stewardship of antimicrobial medicines (an umbrella term that includes antibiotics) to preserve their effectiveness for human and animal health. To that end, in the last two years, we've been working hard in each of our commodity areas and markets to establish sourcing programs that are free from the most important drugs for human medicine, known as High Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HPCIA). In some cases, we’ve gone even further and dedicated parts of our own flocks to No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) programs, which indicates that chickens have never been given antibiotics at any point in their life cycles. If animals in these programs fall ill and require antibiotics, our farmers and their veterinarians treat them in accordance with our animal welfare standards, and simply remove them from the Antibiotic-free (ABF) or NAE-designated flocks.

Around the world, we have also been piloting best practice programs that result in the reduction of antibiotic use. We likewise support our suppliers' efforts to implement new practices aimed at improving the health of their animals and reducing their need for key medications in the first place.

Our specific goals vary from region to region, depending on local regulations, customer commitments, and the way animals are already being managed at the farm level from country to country. Our goals and progress also vary by protein group — since OSI operates vertically-integrated poultry businesses, we have much more control over antibiotic use in chicken than we do, for example, in beef, and have progressed in that commodity area much more quickly. But in all OSI regions and proteins, we are steadily progressing toward the overall reduction of HPCIAs in our supply chains and have already established sourcing programs in many countries that eliminate HPCIAs in poultry, beef and pork.


Much of our recent work around curbing antibiotic use in chicken has been spurred by the ambitions of one of our longtime customers that align with many of our own aspirations. We're proud to work closely with this partner in its own effort to reduce (and, where possible, eliminate) HPCIAs from its supply chain. This partnership has driven us to work closely with our farmers to track antibiotic usage and share best practices in biosecurity, veterinary care, vaccine regimes, and probiotics usage, in order to establish dedicated sourcing programs that do not use any HPCIAs at the poultry farm level. We've already done this through antibiotics tracking systems in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Spain, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Australia, China and India. Beyond simply eliminating HPCIAs, some of the suppliers we’re working with, such as those in India, also supply us with NAE chicken. We're working within all of our vertically integrated poultry businesses to establish our own NAE programs as well in addition to Amick Farms' NAE program in the U.S.


OSI is simultaneously working to encourage antibiotic stewardship in beef production. Since we have less direct control over beef production in our supply chain, cooperation with our farmers is fundamental to us hitting our targets, which vary by region. In Germany, Poland and the U.K., OSI has aligned with targets established by the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability, which calls for a 50% reduction in the use of HPCIAs and total usage of antibiotics below 10mg/Kg PCU by 2023. (PCU is an abbreviation for Population Correction Unit, which is used to help measure antibiotics use. PCU takes into account the animal population as well as the estimated weight of each particular animal at the time of treatment with antibiotics.)

Work toward these goals is already underway, and begins with gathering farm-level data that is helping us understand the health of herds and extent of antibiotic use on farms in our supply chains. In the U.K., for example, OSI has gathered data from 60 farms in a project aimed at establishing baseline use of antibiotics in beef. We allowed farmers to see the data collected from all participants in an effort to educate and motivate them about their own approach to antibiotics on the farm. Many eagerly checked to see how their antibiotic use compared to that of their peers and used the exercise to set their own ambitious goals.

As we continue working to take stock of antibiotic use in our own beef supply chains, we are still able to support our customers' Antibiotic-Free beef commitments, by purchasing some NAE beef from the U.S.

We are also able to support customers' NAE pork commitments by sourcing some pork from dedicated programs in U.S. But we are also evaluating other opportunities to advance antibiotic stewardship within the pork industry.


To that end, we're staying on top of the latest research on antibiotics and best practices, across protein groups, through our involvement in industry associations and multi-stakeholder groups. When we learn something new, we are always eager to not only implement it within our own operations, but share it with our network as well. Our engagement with producer organizations, for example, allows us to further the advancement of suppliers' quality assurance programs and support them in their own work to implement best practices in animal medicines.

We also challenge our suppliers to do even better by establishing, in some regions, our own internal antibiotics goals. We set annual goals for our European suppliers, for instance, that go beyond the EU's Antimicrobial Policy — our farmers' impressive track record of reducing key antimicrobials has assured us that they're up to the task.


Across the company, we set high expectations around antibiotic stewardship for our suppliers. Our Raw Material Quality Assurance team and vendor management program ensure that OSI only purchases raw material from approved, externally-inspected facilities, where all animals have undergone ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections. We adhere to all local regulations around antibiotic use and set clear expectations for our raw material suppliers who purchase livestock. When antibiotics are administered, our facilities and suppliers have protocols in place to ensure that the animals are not introduced into the food supply until the medicines have sufficiently cleared the animals’ systems.

Fundamentally, we believe in our farmers and ranchers and know they work diligently to manage their livestock in the best manner possible. We understand that, at times, medicines are important tools for promoting animal welfare and we trust our farmers to work with their veterinarians to make the most responsible decisions for the health of their animals — and humans, too.

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