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Major Food Service Management Companies Help to Fill the GAP for Hospital Chicken Needs

Hillary Greenwood, National Procurement Director, Health Care Without Harm, Healthy Food in Health Care Program

2016 was a momentous year for addressing routine antibiotic use and animal welfare in broiler chicken production. While many commitments were made in 2015 and earlier, 2016 was the year when retail, fast food, and food management sectors manifested these promises in a variety of ways. Restaurants have made particularly good progress in sourcing the chicken they serve from farmers who do not use antibiotics. By 2017, all chicken sold at Chipotle, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, and Subway will have been raised without antibiotics, according to Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union.

Health care continues to drive change within its sphere of influence. Leading health systems are coming together, forming a working group* that is advocating for market transformation. Together, nine U.S. hospitals, supported by a network of thousands of healthcare facilities from across the country, called on food producers and manufacturers to meet their growing demand for sustainable meat and poultry. Up to 60% of each system’s meat and poultry purchases are comprised of products raised without routine antibiotics, and as they indicated to providers, their capacity to meet sustainable food purchasing goals with verified products would remain out of reach without increased production and access.

Responding to demands for improved animal welfare, Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo, the largest and most prevalent food service management companies, each made an announcement regarding health and animal welfare criteria. They addressed factors such as the living conditions of broiler chickens and the genetics or the breed of the birds—referencing Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP), 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rating Program that recognizes the welfare practices of producers who are certified by independent third-party certifiers and standards.   

The majority of hospitals in the United States are managed by these three companies, known as “The Big 3,” to industry insiders, according to CHD’s 2014 assessment of the healthcare sector. Only 38% of hospitals have self-operated foodservice operations, the rest are managed by food service management companies. In 2014, U.S. consumers ate half their meals away from home, a large portion of these meals were eaten at managed dining facilities in hospitals, colleges, industrial job sites, government agencies, etc. Institutional food service represents 36% of the total foodservice market. Among the largest 15 foodservice companies in the country, noncommercial companies (including the Big 3) hold the top four slots.

The facilities in the aforementioned working group, have chosen to collaborate with these companies because of their reach and potential for systemic change. Additionally, the working group has pulled in other important stakeholders such as supply chain partners including distributors and group purchasing organizations, producers and certifiers like GAP.

GAP’s next broiler chicken standard, Version 3, is anticipated to be released this summer and will prohibit all antibiotic use. So while GAP is shifting toward a “never-ever program” (animals that are treated with antibiotics for sickness can’t be sold under that certification), the structure of the standards (to move up The 5-Step Program) provides producers with the framework to move from conventional production systems to one that improves animal welfare, environmental and public health.

“Global Animal Partnership is ecstatic with the response to our initiative from the foodservice industry,” says Anne Malleau, Executive Director of GAP, “ We're committed to a muti-stakeholder/partnership approach to this initiative...We've got many provisions in the standard for treating sick animals, chain of custody for removal of treated flocks etc., but consistent with the rest of GAPs standards, the chicken standard will effectively become a 'never ever' program. We've heard loud and clear from our [producers] that this is the best way forward from both an ethical and responsible use standpoint.”

According to Anne Malleau, some food management companies are interested in the GAP program and how it can be used to address management and environmental changes. In addition, they are eager to learn how the GAP program can help them provide the transparency and verification consumers are looking for today.

Sodexo’s announcement stated their current supplier of broiler chickens plans to eliminate human-class antibiotics from its production in 2017. “At a minimum, our supplier will be implementing a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Process Verification program to authenticate. We are also in the process of looking more broadly at third-party verification but need to ensure an optimum balance between cost and transparency,” says Ted Monk, Vice President Corporate Responsibility, Sodexo North America. “In addition we will continue to use our internal auditing processes to ensure that our suppliers adhere to our Animal Welfare Code of Conduct. We would plan to have a decision on this in the second half of 2017.”

Compass Group’s announcement explained that the company would “ensure certification under GAP's 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program for all broiler chickens as a buying requirement across 100% of their business by 2024.” It’s safe to say that if all of Compass Group's broiler chicken purchases will be certified by GAP, than they will be raised without routine antibiotics.

"We’re in the initial phases of evaluating our supply chain to source certified products that meet our commitments,”says Amy Keister, Vice President of Consumer Engagement, for Compass Group.

While Aramark’s announcement stated it was building on their animal welfare policy instituted in 2015 and pointed to GAP’s standards and the work ahead with their suppliers, the existing policy and recent press release has yet to reference how they will address antibiotic use with their suppliers.  “We will either require our suppliers to ensure certification under  The GAP’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program or to seek third-party verification of these practices,” says Kathy Cacciola, Senior Director, Environmental Sustainability for Aramark.

However, Aramark went on to clarify, “We will review and assess GAPs chicken standards, including their forthcoming 3.0 version. At the same time, we continue to engage with our suppliers to develop a plan to address antibiotics for human health used in poultry products. For example, our primary supplier is actively working to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from broiler chicken production by September 2017.”

Health Care Without Harm is pleased to learn that two out of the three companies’ primary suppliers are working to eliminate medically important antibiotics in 2017 and each management company acknowledged the importance and growing healthcare and consumer demand for transparency through certified products.

While we applaud each company for making a public commitment to the welfare of broiler chickens such as slower growing chicken breeds, we believe there was a missed opportunity by some to make the connection to antibiotic use. There’s both a financial case to be made and an ethical one. “No antibiotics ever” chicken is one of the fastest growing markets, contributing 67% of total chicken sales growth. The majority of antibiotics used in agriculture are not used to treat sick animals, but are routinely administered in feed and water to compensate for unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions. This subtherapeutic application of antibiotics is breeding antibiotic resistant bacterial strains contributing to antibiotic resistant infections in humans. Every year, two million people get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 of them die as a result.

Health Care facilities, often on the front line of the antibiotic resistance crisis, are leveraging their moral authority and purchasing power to influence responsible antibiotic use in both clinical care and food production. Along with allies in retail, restaurants and across institutional sectors, health care is encouraging producers to alter productions systems to address crowding and sanitation so they no longer rely on  subtherapeutic use of antibiotics and move toward stewarding natural resources. From small regional hospitals to nationwide health systems, health facilities are driving change.

If your hospital or health systems hasn’t already, make a commitment to the Less Meat, Better Meat goals and inform your vendors, making sure existing or new product offerings meet at least one of the robust programs Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth recognizes. For Practice Greenhealth members, consider joining* the working group of leading hospitals and health systems that are driving national dialogue to persuade producers and manufacturers and the healthcare supply chain to help tip the scale on sustainable offerings.

A healthy food system thrives on diversity of scale and inclusive access to market for all producers. We applaud hospitals who have created their own purchasing pathways to source directly to small- and mid-scale producers. These efforts complement the important work of hospitals partnering with vendors such as foodservice management companies, food distributors and group purchasing organizations to convince larger producers to follow suit so all hospitals—and other institutions—can access sustainably produced products.

*Membership in the market transformation workgroup is limited to health systems that are members of Practice Greenhealth. Suppliers, distributors, group purchasing organizations and other relevant parties may be invited by the MTG to participate in webinars, conference calls and in-person meetings but are not eligible for membership in the MTG.

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