Investors to McDonald's, Domino's: Cut the antibiotics

A world resistant to antibiotics is frightening for humans, including investors.

Warning that the world is headed to a future where routine operations are no longer possible and infections no longer treatable, a coalition of 54 institutional investment groups is calling on McDonald's (MCD), Domino's Pizza (DPZ) and eight other fast-good chains to dramatically decrease the use of antibiotics in their global poultry and meat supply chains.

The campaign launched on Monday is led by the London-based Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) Initiative and responsible investment charity ShareAction. It's backed by a $1 trillion coalition whose members include Aviva Investors, Natixis Asset Management, ACTIAM, Mirova, Coller Capital and Strathclyde Pension Fund.

"The world is changing, regulation on antibiotic use is set to tighten and consumer preferences are shifting away from factory farmed food," said Jeremy Coller, Founder of the FAIRR Initiative and CIO of Coller Capital, in a release.

Around half of all antibiotics produced in the U.K. are given to livestock, with the figure rising to 80 percent in the U.S., according to the campaign's release. The U.K. government recently published a report saying drug-resistant infections could cost the world around $100 trillion in lost output by 2050.

Five of the 10 giant global companies probed by the group "have no clear policy on antibiotic use in their meat supply chains,"Mara Lilley, campaigns officer at ShareAction said. None currently has a fully comprehensive policy on tackling antibiotic overuse, according to the group.

The call to action comes amid mounting evidence of the health risks posed by antibiotics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named antibiotic resistance as one of the top five health threats facing Americans, with an estimated 2 million-plus people across the country getting infections resistant to antibiotics each year and at least 23,000 dying as a result. Experts say widespread use of antibiotics in the food supply is one of the factors contributing to the development of drug-resistant superbugs.

In a separate report, the World Health Organization (WHO) made the case that "resistance to common bacteria has reached alarming levels in many parts of the world indicating that many of the available treatment options for common infections in some settings are becoming ineffective."

"We did receive a letter and have responded to the group," a spokesperson for McDonald's said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "Agricultural practices and regulations vary around the world, so we believe it would be premature to set meaningful global timelines."

The fast-food giant has already said it would stop using antibiotics important to human medicine in chicken production for McDonald's USA by March 2017.

"We purchase beef, dairy, poultry and pork products in the U.S. from suppliers that use only low-risk animals, as classified by the USDA; emphasize appropriate animal husbandry, hygiene and preventative practices; and emphasize limited use of antibiotics," a Domino's spokesperson said in an email.

Earlier this month, Subway began selling sandwiches made with chicken raised without antibiotics. By 2025, the chain says, all the meat across its 30,000 North American restaurants will be antibiotic-free.

The companies are also looking to keep ahead of regulatory and legislative hurdles.

The Food and Drug Administration has updated its policies on the use of antibiotics in animal feed, officially banning the use of any drugs used for growth promotion, with further restrictions taking effect by year-end.

Late last year, California adopted the toughest limits in the nation on the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock, barring their routine use to prevent illness or promote growth. At the time, Gov. Jerry Brown called the overuse of antibiotics "an urgent public health problem."