Health Care Sector Demands Sustainable Meat and Poultry
Contact: Benn Grover, Health Care Without Harm
Leading health systems urge food producers, manufacturers, and supply chain to offer more sustainably raised meat and poultry products, starting with those raised without routine antibiotics.
[Washington, DC] Nine U.S. health systems, supported by a network of thousands of health care facilities across the United States, are calling on food producers and manufacturers to meet the growing demand for sustainable meat and poultry within health care.
The health systems – Advocate Health Care, Catholic Health Initiatives, Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Gundersen Health System, HackensackUMC, Kaiser Permanente, Partners HealthCare*, University Hospitals Health System, and Veterans Health Administration Nutrition and Food Services – have already achieved significant goals in sustainable food purchasing. Up to 60% of each system’s meat and poultry purchases are now comprised of products raised without routine antibiotics.
Despite these efforts, U.S. hospitals’ capacity to meet sustainable food purchasing goals remains out of reach until producers and the health care supply chain increase production and access to verified products.
“Health systems have been demanding these products for several years and small and mid-scale producers are ready to respond. We see an opportunity for health care to partner with their vendors, like food service management companies, food distributors and group purchasing organizations to incorporate these producers and tip the scale around antibiotic overuse in animal agriculture. We want to see larger producers follow suit so all hospitals and other institutions can access these products,” said Hillary Bisnett, National Procurement Director for Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care program. “Over time, these partnerships have the potential to also reshape the supply chain and take sustainable meat production to the next level.”
These leading health systems are not only contributing to the collective demand for meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics, they are transitioning toward socially and environmentally responsible meat production practices. Combined, they spend more than $34 million per year on meat and poultry products and are backed by thousands of hospitals within the Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth networks that are actively working toward purchasing more sustainable products at their facilities.
Food service directors and other hospital administrators are noticing the options available to other sectors such as retailers and fast food, but the health care sector’s options are limited.
McDonalds, Subway, Panera, Costco, and many others have announced intentions to source and sell meat raised without antibiotics and producers are responding to these demands. Just this July, a panel of poultry industry experts were asked “if they thought the industry was at a tipping point” at the Poultry Science Association’s annual meeting.
“[A] large segment of poultry buyers, food service distributors, and wholesalers who purchase chicken in large volumes for food service outlets that are less in the public eye aren’t demanding antibiotic-free products yet…If it does, then we’re done,” said Dr. G. Donald Ritter, director of health services at Mountaire Farms Inc. “If food service 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.”
The demand from health care continues to grow. “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,” said Ms. Bisnett. “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.”
Around 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic resistant infections each year and thousands more succumb to longer, riskier, and more expensive hospital stays. Antibiotic resistance costs the United States billions of dollars annually in direct health care expenses and lost productivity. Antibiotics are an essential part of the health care we receive, yet 80% of those sold in the United States—the same medicines used to treat human infections—are used in industrial animal agriculture as a stopgap against crowded and unsanitary conditions.
Because the health care sector is such a large part of the economy, hospitals can help shift the entire marketplace, benefitting public health and making products safer for all consumers. In 2015, Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth 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% of their food budget on local and sustainable foods.
Health Care Without Harm has been compiling a directory of sustainably-raised meat and poultry products for health facilities to use when making purchasing decisions. Together with the facilities in their network, the organization expects to see this list grow in quantity and variety so that hospitals will be able to supply their food service while working within their missions to promote public health.
*Participating Partners HealthCare hospitals include: Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, North Shore Medical Center-Salem, North Shore Medical Center-Union, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital-Boston, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital-Cape Cod
About this announcement, health systems offered the following statements:
Advocate Health Care: “As a health care organization, we are keenly aware of how important it is to have antibiotics that work effectively. Our commitment to purchasing meat raised without routine antibiotics is a component of our overall approach to antimicrobial stewardship,” said Mary Larsen, Director of Sustainability at Advocate Health Care. “We are eager to work with producers and supply chain partners to find more products raised without routine antibiotics at a reasonable cost.”
Dartmouth-Hitchcock: “Antibiotic resistance is a daily problem for our patients and physicians,” said Robert McLellan, MD, MPH, medical director of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. “Dartmouth-Hitchcock has made a commitment to serve meat raised without antibiotics to protect the health of our patients, staff and community. We are proud to join others in the health care industry to use our enormous economic clout to influence the market.”
Gundersen Health System: “Gundersen is a recognized leader in improving the health and well-being of our patients, families and communities. We are committed to providing our communities high quality, sustainable and nutritious food.”
HackensackUMC: “As a leader in healthcare, HackensackUMC is committed to purchasing meat raised without routine use antibiotics as part of our overall approach to prevention and keeping our community healthy.”
Kaiser Permanente: “Many health systems, including Kaiser Permanente, are recognizing that locally grown, sustainably farmed and sustainably processed meat and poultry are less taxing on the environment and ultimately healthier for those who eat and grow the food,” says Kathy Gerwig, who leads Kaiser Permanente’s Environmental Stewardship program. Kaiser Permanente believes sustainable food is healthy food, and is committed to purchasing 100 percent of its food locally or from farms and producers that use sustainable practices, including using antibiotics responsibly, by 2025. Currently, 24 percent of the food that Kaiser Permanente purchases is local or sustainable, and 37 percent of the meat and poultry it buys is raised without antibiotics.
Partners HealthCare Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital – Boston: “Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital is dedicated to providing antibiotic free meats to both patients and Cafe customers,” said Margaret Vasquez, Director Nutrition and Food Services.
Partners HealthCare Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital – Cape Cod: “Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Cape Cod (SCC) is proud to serve only antibiotic free chicken. We recognize that antibiotic usage in livestock may undermine the effectiveness of these important medications and promote the growth of resistant bacteria in humans. SCC wants to do our part to ensure that antibiotics remain available and effective for the treatment of bacterial illnesses in humans,” said Stephanie Nadolny, Vice President of Operations.
University Hospitals Health System: “University Hospitals is committed to providing nutritious food that is sustainably produced. By preferentially purchasing meat raised without nontherapeutic antibiotics, UH is helping to safeguard antibiotics’ effectiveness in treating people and supporting the development of healthier agricultural practices nationwide. With support from clinical leaders of our antibiotic stewardship and infection control programs, UH purchases antibiotic-free meats for our retail cafeterias, patient meals and catering applications and continually seeks to source more antibiotic-free options for our patients, employees, and visitors.”
Veterans Health Administration Nutrition and Food Services: “The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Nutrition and Food Services (NFS) develops and provides comprehensive evidenced based nutritional services for Veterans and their families across VHA’s health care facilities, including safe and high quality patient food services. VHA NFS serves 38.7 million inpatient meals per year, and has a focus to increase the procurement of proteins raised with responsible antibiotic use. VHA’s NFS is committed to support sound and humane industrial agricultural practices. VHA’s NFS focuses on green environmental practices in food systems in our primary VA mission to support Veteran health and the health of our communities.”
About Health Care Without Harm
Health Care Without Harm is the global leader in transforming the health care sector to become environmentally sustainable and, through the sector’s significant economic power and leadership position, to advocate for environmental health. Health Care Without Harm’s national Healthy Food in Health Care program harnesses the purchasing power and expertise of the health care sector to advance the development of a sustainable food system. Visit noharm-uscanada.org