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Rep. Slaughter Releases Survey Results on Antibiotics in Food

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) this week released the results a survey conducted by her office on antibiotics used in meat and poultry production.

In February, the congresswoman wrote to 60 of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, restaurants, and retailers and asked them to respond with details on their policies, including what percentage of the meat they sell is raised “without any antibiotics,” raised with antibiotics only for “therapeutic reasons,” or raised with “routine use of antibiotics.”

Rep. Slaughter’s office said the survey results showed that “while a small number of industry leaders provide antibiotic-free meat and poultry products, an overwhelming majority of food production companies routinely feed low-doses of antibiotics to healthy food-animals.”

Niche natural and organic-focused companies like Whole Foods, Chipotle, Niman Ranch and Applegate Farms are doing business with meat only sourced from animals not fed or treated with antibiotics, but few others surveyed are, according to the results. Slaughter’s office also gave these, and a few other companies, high marks for transparency in revealing their purchasing policies.

The congresswoman’s office provided a 74-page document detailing responses from dozens of food companies — many of which cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new guidance document and the agency’s drug approval process as key safeguards.

Applebees said it works closely with suppliers “to ensure animal health products, such as antibiotics, are used in a judicious and appropriate manner.” Arby’s said it “does not possess the detailed information you have requested regarding the specific production practices of our suppliers.”

Au Bon Pain said it was seeking to reduce its purchasing of products raised with routine antibiotics, noting that it offers customers poultry and beef products produce without the drugs, but the company also said that because it is a regional brand and relatively small it “does not possess the market power to alter the way suppliers do business.”

Burger King said its suppliers are not allowed to use antibiotics for growth promotion purposes. “Some chicken is treated for illness or disease but never fed antibiotics for growth-promotion of feed efficiency,” the company said.

Cargill said that it recommends its suppliers “work closely with a veterinarian” and works with its producers to ensure the judicious use of approved antibiotics. Chick-fil-A said that takes the issue seriously and does not allow its suppliers to use antibiotics for growth promotion or to improve feed efficiency “this is not prudent use,” read the company’s letter.

McDonald’s said it prohibits suppliers from using antibiotics belonging to the classes of compounds approved for use in human medicine to be used solely for growth promotion — a policy the company established years ago.

Panera said that all of its chicken is antibiotic free and it is working on sourcing more of its turkey and pork the same way.

The vast majority of companies did not respond to the congresswoman’s specific questions about what percentage of meat was from animals treated with routine antibiotics, only antibiotics for therapeutic purposes, or without any antibiotics.

“Through my survey, the food industry has provided us valuable information, and with that knowledge we must act. I urge consumers to consider today’s findings when shopping, and I urge the FDA and my colleagues in Congress to strengthen our laws in order to fight the growing threat of superbugs,” said Slaughter, the only microbiologist serving in Congress. “Until we do, the routine use of antibiotics will continue to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health.”

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