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Advocates Launch New Campaign to Combat Antibiotics in Ag

Poll finds most consumers want antibiotic-free meat at the grocery store

Advocacy groups are ramping up their push to reduce antibiotics in meat production with a new consumer campaign and another lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Consumer Reports released a new poll Wednesday that found that 86 percent of consumers think meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local grocery store. More than 60 percent of those polled said they would be willing to pay at least five cents more and 37 percent said they would be willing to pay a dollar or more extra per pound for antibiotic-free meat. The 1,000 person poll has a margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

The group released their findings along with a report on the “overuse” of antibiotics in animal agriculture and announced a new “Meat Without Drugs” campaign to pressure retailers into selling antibiotic-free meats.

The Natural Resources Defense Council also sued FDA again this week — the group has been part of multiple lawsuits and has two recent court victories— seeking access to agency risk assessments documents that looked at the human health risk posed by antibiotics in animal feed. NRDC said it is suing FDA after it “failed to respond in a timely fashion to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”

Public health advocates have been frustrated by what they believe is too slow a response to an urgent public health threat. Around 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States each year are given to food animals to boost growth as well as treat and prevent disease and scientists have long known that all antibiotic use, whether in medicine or agriculture, fuels antibiotic resistance, which can make diseases harder to treat.

In April, FDA finalized a guidance on the judicious use of antibiotics in food animals and released a new plan to help curb the drugs used for growth promotion. The agency is asking veterinary drug companies to voluntarily change their drug labels on medically-important antibiotics so that farmers will only be allowed to use the drugs to prevent, control, or treat diseases under the supervision of a veterinarian — and to boost growth or improve feed efficiency.

Frustrated with FDA’s approach, advocates are increasingly trying to influence the marketplace, where antibiotic-free meat remains a small fraction of the industry, but is growing rapidly.

In February, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a microbiologist and vocal critic of farm antibiotic use, sent a letter to 60 of the nation’s top food companies asking that they reveal their antibiotics policies

Slaughter specifically asked the companies to break down what percentage of the food they sell is raised “without any antibiotics,” raised with antibiotics only for “therapeutic reasons,” or raised with “routine use of antibiotics” — information that consumers often have no way of knowing. The list of companies that received the letter was varied, including: Burger King, Cargill, YUM! Brands, Costco, Bon Appetit Management Company, Kraft, McDonald’s and Whole Foods.

Consumers Union, the public policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, also announced Wednesday that Trader Joe’s is first on their list of retailers they plan to pressure. In a release, CU said that the grocery chain was “one of the leading national chains best poised to make this commitment.”

“We are asking supermarkets to step up to the challenge and tell their suppliers to procure only meat and poultry that has been raised without antibiotics,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at CU. “Antibiotics are losing their potency in people, leading to a major national health crisis, and we need to drastically reduce their use in food animals. We are calling on Trader Joe’s to be a leader and make this change now.”

The group also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking for stricter labeling standards for meat raised without antibiotics.

In their research, CU said they sent 13 “secret shoppers” to grocery stores across the country to look at the different labels used. They found more than 20 different labels in use — like “never ever given antibiotics” and “humanely raised on family farms without antibiotics.”

If consumers want to choose meat from animals raised without antibiotics, CU recommends looking for the “organic” label, or labels that indicate no antibiotics were used and note that the producer is “USDA Process Verified.”

© Food Safety News
  • Funny, I thought the majority wanted “cheap” – maybe this poll is a “when observed” poll. We all know that most folk want cheap first, or at least that is what the “voting with food dollars” states at the grocery checkouts. When consumers refuse to buy based on cheap only and will only buy ethically raised antibiotic/hormone free food AND are willing to pay a fair price for the same, it will be produced in droves, I guarantee it!