Continuing her charge against the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in food animal production, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) sent a letter late last week to more than 60 of the leading fast food companies, meat producers, and grocery stories asking them to release details on their antibiotic use policies.

Slaughter specically asked the companies to breakdown 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.

“Very simply, consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Slaughter. “It’s like that old commercial, ‘where’s the beef?’ We just want to know, ‘what’s in the beef?’ The US is facing a growing public health crisis in the form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and information about how these companies are contributing to its rise or resolution should be available to consumers.”

Antibiotic-resistance is not just an issue that rallies sustainable agriculture advocates — who have long argued against drug use in food animal production — the issue is increasingly tied to foodborne illness outbreak headlines.

Last year, the United States had the most outbreaks ever of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella tied to meat and poultry, according to Slaughter’s office. Last summer, the largest Class I meat recall on record was initiated after Cargill ground turkey was linked to a nationwide drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak tied to 136 illnesses and one death.

“Decades of research has shown that the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to swine, cows, and chickens harms human health by contributing to diseases that fail drug treatment,” the letter continued. “A National Academy of Sciences report stated that ‘a decrease in the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in human medicine is not enough [to slow the increase in antibiotic resistance]. Substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate misuse in animals and agriculture as well.”

The most recent estimates show around 80 percent of all antibiotics sold annually are used in food animal production.

The only microbiologist serving in Congress, Slaughter challenged companies to tout examples of lessening antibiotic use.

“There are some who would have us believe that we must pump our food up with antibiotics to keep prices low and affordable,” she said. “But the food industry has proven success stories and leaders who understand the benefits that come from raising and serving antibiotic-free meat. It is not incompatible for us to have healthy and affordable food.”

The letter asks companies to respond in detail to Congresswoman Slaughter’s office by June 15.

  • I’m pushing for the samething in South Africa. I truly believe that if the meat that’s fed “routinely antiobiotics” were to be labelled “Contains Antibiotics” in bright and bold, very few people would buy it. It’ll give a consumer a choice to make an informed decision. Consumers are currently buying blindly.
    I have since stopped eating meat till such time that I’m certain the meat I’m eating is free range, hormone-free and antibiotics free. Since I stopped eating meat I feel so much healthier.

  • I agree with the comment above although I wont go as far as to quit eating meat. Labeling meats that “Contains Antibiotics” should be a no brainier and if its all about keeping the cost down for consumers then there should be nothing to worry about. The consumers will decide!!

  • QB

    Healthy animals, Healthy food, Healthy people. And, no…you are not eating antibiotics in your meat/food. Hormone free? Hormone additives are used ONLY in beef animals and some dairy…not pigs, turkeys or broilers…and the estrogen content is miniscule by any standard at all…lettuce has more estrogen than beef from implanted cattle…just the facts, Maam. And let’s not forget…they are both girl and boy animals. Simply put, hormones are not expressed in muscle tissue.
    I have no argument against folks who would choose their food to come from antibiotic-free sources, but to demean conventional producers by stating that their meat contains antibiotics is in most applications, simply false…as in inaccurate. Antibiotics are expensive and are not used resklessly by producers…that would be just bad business…let alone foolish. And that statement above that says:…”Decades of research…etc…” is simply not accurate. In Europe, the antibiotics in question were removed from use and human bacterial resistance has continued to increase as it did before their removal. Yes, let the Consumers decide…but do not mislead them about their food safety. I’m not entirely fond of consuming bacteria, either. I’ll trust conventional production methods…simply because I am knowledgeable about them…and am also knowledgeable about ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ production. Thanks for allowing and reading an opposing viewpoint.

  • I do not think the general public will not buy meat because it is labelled. Research has shown that price ranks higher than impacts on human health or even animal welfare.
    What is needed is strong legislation and policies that guide farming practices in countries all around the world. Even if one where to stop eating meat, they will still drink water which is contanamited from the animal waste (if their water supply comes from sources near a factory/industrial farm).

  • QB

    Tozie, perhaps you are simply not aware…but…years ago when all livestock was raised outside, anytime a heavy rainstorm came along, ALL the manure was washed downstream into watersheds and tributaries…and rivers and lakes. Today, modern production facilities actually provide a very comfortable shelter and a controlled environment for our animals…not to mention protection from predators, sunburn and frostbite. Those same facilities allow us to control where and how the manure is spread and distributed on fields as fertilizer…much improved over fertilizers that come from artificial sources. And it is the only completely natural fertilizer that is available. Content of the manure and needs of the field(s) are measured carefully and the manure is applied accordingly. Never too much per acre because that would be wasteful…just the right amount. It also happens to be the only manner in which we can actually increase the organic content of the soil. Efforts to discredit modern production technologies and practices do not change the fact that US livestock producers provide the safest and lowest cost meat protein in the worl.

  • It has become common knowledge that the Animal Farmers don’t care about animals at all but profit. Yes there is an extensive use of hormones in Dairy Cows to try and increase the milk yield. Oxytocin is a hormone used, same hormone given to women in labour to induce contractions. Poor cows have these contractions every day throughout their lifetime just to feed us. That is so cruel check this out:
    Also go to an organisation that calls for Compassion in World Farming. If we continue consuming meat at the current rate(s) we are fuelling cruelty to animals. And farmers are there to deny and defend it.
    Antibiotic usage in animal is very rife, the information is there but people choose to ignore it because who wants to give up meat? Soon we will be calling meat a religion, that’s how pre-occupied people are with meat and its products.
    For as long as you have chickens clumped up, farmers will always use antibiotics to keep infections away you would not want all your chickens wiped out at once would you?

  • Alex

    I agree with you Precious. The farmers are giving antibiotics and other drugs to the animals because they are living in squalid, cramped conditions. Look at the way female pigs are raised and the poor chickens that are in battery cages so small they can’t even spread their wings. These poor birds have half their beak cut off so they don’t mutilate their cage mates. I have pasture-raised laying hens and they are the happiest animals around. They get to live their life outside and behave like chickens. Everyone — listen up, please look for the Animal Welfare Approved stamp, this organization has the most stringent standards for all farm animals. And make sure that the grass-fed cattle are finished on grass, not sent to the stockyards and finished on grain. Boy, I would love to take some of these factory farmers kids and cram them into a small cage and see how they like it!