Fifty four large investors with £1 trillion assets under management have initiated a campaign aimed at curbing the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry used by 10 large US and UK restaurant groups.
In a letter dated 15 March, the investors have asked restaurant groups including McDonalds and JD Wetherspoon to set a timeline to stop the use of medically important antibiotics in their supply chains.
The other eight approached include Domino's Pizza Group, Brinker International, Darden Restaurants, Mitchells & Butlers, Restaurant Brands International, Restaurant Group, The Wendy's Company and Yum! Brands.
The move comes after the World Health Organisation warned that the world was moving towards a post-antibiotic era in which many infections would no longer be treatable due to the overuse of antibiotics.
According to the coalition, 80 per cent of antibiotics produced in the US were given to livestock, adding that failure to confront their "irresponsible" use threatened both health and investor returns.
"These large food companies are key ingredients in the portfolios of most of our pensions and savings, thus it is a case of proper risk-management to ask them to work out how they will meet this challenge," said Jeremy Coller, chief investment officer of Coller Capital, Reuters reported.
The financiers, including Aviva Investors, Strathclyde Pension Fund and Coller Capital, had raised particular concerns about the use of antibiotics classified as ''critically important'' to human health and the routine use of drugs on factory farms to prevent disease.
According to experts, the use of drugs in farm animals was linked, via the food chain, to the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The UK's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, had described an ''apocalyptic scenario'' in which people undergoing routine operations died because antibiotics were no longer effective at stopping infections.
The investors' move comes in the backdrop of figures obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealing an increase in cases of a strain of campylobacter – the UK's most widespread cause of food poisoning – resistant to a key antibiotic in human patients.