Consumers Union, the lobbying arm of Consumer Reports, pushed back this week against criticism of their recently-released “Meat Without Drugs” report and campaign to pressure grocery chains to sell meat from animals raised without antibiotics. “Consumers Union has undertaken a Meat Without Drugs campaign because antibiotic resistance has become a major public health crisis,” CU wrote in a letter to the leaders of the House agriculture and agriculture appropriations committees. “We believe that one of the best ways to reduce the level of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is to minimize the use of antibiotics in food-animal production.” The letter is in response to a July 3 letter to lawmakers, from livestock, drug, and veterinary groups, that sharply criticizes the CU effort. In their 8-page response, CU refutes many of those criticisms. CU pointed to FDA’s new finalized guidance on the issue, which is “premised on the concept that increasing the exposure of bacterial populations to antimicrobial drugs increases the risk of generating resistance to those antimicrobial drugs” and stated that there is “broad scientific consensus on this point.” CU is actively pressuring retailers, including Trader Joe’s, but the group also wants to see policy action. “On a policy level, we believe the FDA should restrict the use of antibiotics in food animals to treatment of veterinarian-diagnosed sick animals only. FDA should not allow any use for other purposes,” reads the letter, which also acknowledges that antibiotic-free systems often work “in tandem” with systems that allow antibiotics — if an animal gets sick, it is treated and removed from the antibiotic-free designation. But CU said that experiences in other countries show that the United States could achieve big reductions in use “without significant impact on the price or supply of meat and poultry.” One of the assertions the group challenges: that antibiotics “are critical to making food safe.” Industry groups wrote that “Blanket actions to restrict antibiotic use would actually make our food system less safe, limit our ability to prevent, control and treat disease, and hurt countless animals.” In their response, CU said it disagrees. They argue that the overuse of antibiotics makes food less safe. “Consumer Reports most recent tests of chicken, in 2009, found Salmonella and/or Campylobacter in about two-thirds of the samples and 68 percent and 60 percent of the Salmonella and Campylobacter, respectively, were resistant to one or more antibiotics,” according to CU. “Antibiotic use is clearly not eliminating pathogens from chicken.” “Meanwhile, to the extent that antibiotic use selects for resistant pathogens, it worsens the public health problem of foodborne infections that are difficult to treat,” the letter adds. CU’s response — which was sent to House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and ranking member Colin Peterson (D-MN) and agriculture appropriations chair Jack Kingston (R-GA) and ranking member Sam Farr (D-CA — can be found here.