Health Care
A group is lobbying for more local, sustainable and antibiotic-free products for the health care industry. 

WASHINGTON – Several US health care systems associated with Health Care Without Harm are asking food producers and manufacturers to meet the growing demand for sustainable meat and poultry.

At the moment, health care systems are working to improve production and access to verified products that are raised without antibiotics.

Hillary Bisnett, national procurement director for Health Care Without Harm

“Health systems have been demanding these products for several years, and small and mid-scale producers are ready to respond,” said Hillary Bisnett, national procurement director for Health Care Without Harm’s healthy food in health care program. “We see an opportunity for health care to partner with their vendors, like foodservice management companies, food distributors and group purchasing organizations to incorporate these producers and tip the scale around antibiotic overuse in animal agriculture.”

Heath Care Without Harm (HCWH) is an international coalition that consists of 500 members from 53 countries. Their goal is to advocate for the health care sector to focus on environmental sustainability and health.

In a statement released on Aug. 23, the group  said that more than $34 million per year is spent on sustainable meat and poultry products with their network of hospitals. They also found that more than half of hospitals surveyed were purchasing meat and poultry products raised without routine antibiotic use, and were spending an average of nearly 15 percent of their food budget on local and sustainable foods. 

With the push for meat raised without antibiotics from companies including McDonald’s, Subway, Panera, Costco, and others, many hospital administrators are following suit.

However, the health care sector’s options are limited and according to Dr. G. Donald Ritter of Mountaire Farms, there will be some difficulties to transition the entire supply chain off of antibiotics.

Ritter was asked at the Poultry Science Association’s annual meeting in July whether the industry was at a tipping point with this issue.

“[A] large segment of poultry buyers, foodservice distributors, and wholesalers who purchase chicken in large volumes for foodservice outlets that are less in the public eye aren’t demanding antibiotic-free products yet…If it does, then we’re done,” he said. “If foodservice wants [a no-antibiotics-ever] product, then all of us are going to make it [and] the price premium is going to crash when the volume goes up.”

Still many in the health care industry are optimistic this can be accomplished sooner, than later. 

“We’re eager to build on the dialogue with producers and manufacturers of all scale about health care’s preference for responsible and verifiable practices in the meat and poultry industry,” Bisnett said. “The bottom line is that businesses need to prioritize raising animals without routine, non-therapeutic antibiotics, and make timely commitments toward transitioning to sustainable production that benefits the health of farm workers and the overall community.”

As part of its initiatives, Health Care Without Harm is compiling a directory of sustainably-raised meat and poultry products for health facilities to use when making purchasing decisions.