Currently responsible for more than one million deaths a year, antimicrobial resistance has been declared as one of the top 10 threats to human health

Global systemic risks are neither a new phenomenon nor a distant memory, with investors still feeling the impacts of the pandemic and 2008 financial crisis. And whilst the impacts of climate and nature risk dominate headlines today, the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens an economic risk comparable to all of the above.

This is why, ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September, the Investor Action on Antimicrobial Resistance (IAAMR) initiative is pressing for investors to join the call for world leaders to adopt seven key asks to tackle this threat.

Antimicrobial resistance is a material risk to investors

Currently responsible for more than one million deaths a year, AMR has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the top 10 threats to human health. On its current path, 10 million people are expected to die annually by 2050 and global GDP may decline 3.8% – equivalent to a $100trn economic loss in today’s money.

AMR, which occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites no longer respond to antimicrobial medicines, has been driven by global overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in humans, animals and agriculture, as well as the subsequent spread of antimicrobial residues into the environment.

The livestock sector uses a disproportionate amount of antibiotics

With an estimated 73% of antimicrobials used in livestock production, including many designated as important to human health, investors are financially exposed by the companies that they invest in at every point in the animal protein supply chain. They are also vulnerable to the anticipated global economic downturn caused by AMR, which will adversely affect companies worldwide.

The evidence is clear that change is needed. The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, which assesses 60 of the largest listed protein producers against ESG risks, found that best practice for preventing AMR is only adopted by 8% of Index companies – mostly operating in aquaculture. This is an insufficient number for such a critically important issue.

Therefore, it is imperative that investors and the agriculture sector collaborate urgently to implement sustainable practices and mitigate the severe economic and health risks posed by antimicrobial resistance.

Emma Berntman at FAIRR Initiative

Emma Berntman, FAIRR Initiative

Investor concerns are growing

Government bodies have already started to take action. In January 2022, the EU brought in a ban on the routine use of antibiotics in livestock production, the strictest regulation of its kind.

But, for a risk which transcends sectors and borders, this is far from enough. Investors are focused on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in September, and calling on policymakers and world leaders to act.

The IAAMR initiative was established to galvanise investor efforts to address global antimicrobial resistance, and to help investors leverage their influence to drive stronger standards of antibiotics stewardship.

Seven asks for a healthier, more prosperous world

In May, the IAAMR issued a call for investor signatories to an open statement to world leaders laying out seven key asks that are essential in tackling the systemic risk of AMR. 

The statement calls for an independent panel, akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for regular scientific assessments on AMR and creating an international framework with science-based targets to guide action. It also suggests a reduction in antibiotic use in agriculture, setting maximum residue limits for antibiotics in wastewater, and managing environmental contamination.

The establishment of a globally integrated surveillance system for AMR and antibiotic use is urged, with data collection across humans, animals, and the environment. Policymakers are also encouraged to support research and development of new antimicrobials, especially for priority pathogens.

Ensuring equitable global access to these treatments is critical, and can be aided by establishing a multilateral fund for low and middle-income countries. The asks take a ‘One Health’ approach, calling for recognition of the inseparable relationship between human, animal, and environmental health.

Taking a significant systemic risk off the table

All stakeholders – including governments, academia, investors, companies, policymakers and intergovernmental organisations – must take an active part in addressing the underlying drivers of AMR and future-proofing society.

Investors are showing leadership, with actions like the IAAMR statement working to raise awareness and galvanise support ahead of the UN General Assembly’s September UNGA meeting on AMR – just the second on the topic, and the first since 2016. 

Now is the time to collectively call for change to address one of the many material risks on investors’ horizon.

The statement is open for all investors and asset owners to sign on until 22 July 2024. Membership of IAAMR or any of its partner organisations is not required.

Emma Berntman is a senior engagement specialist at the FAIRR Initiative