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.