Will Vendors Meet the Call for Sustainable Meat and Poultry?

By Practice Greenhealth Staff on October 25, 2016

Nine major 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.

Individually, the health systems—Advocate Health Care, Catholic Health Initiatives, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Gundersen Health System, Hackensack UMC, 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 percent 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, but they are also 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.

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 percent 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, benefiting 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 percent of their food budgets on local and sustainable foods.

*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 and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital-Cape Cod.

Where to Buy
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 hospitals will be able to supply their food service while working within their missions to promote public health. For the Meat and Poultry Product list, visit www.noharm-uscanada.org/content/us-canada/meat-and-poultry-product-list.