The movement to end the irresponsible use of antibiotics by factory farms continues to gain momentum! Yesterday, Consumers Union released the report, “Meat on Drugs: The overuse of antibiotics in food animals & what supermarkets and consumers can do to stop it,” and, in partnership with FixFood, launched the Meat Without Drugs campaign to inspire action.
For those who've missed our past coverage of antibiotics, here’s a summary of the issue: industrial livestock producers administer huge quantities of antibiotics (i.e., 80% of all antimicrobials sold in the US) to farm animals in order to boost growth rates and compensate for crowded, filthy conditions on factory farms. This practice promotes the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threatens human health by rendering medicines used to treat human illness less effective. (If you prefer your issue summaries in 90-second animated video format, check out the outstanding new FixFood video, produced by Robert Kenner, director of Food, Inc.)
The reckless misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture has been decried by scientists, physicians, public health professionals, veterinarians, sustainable food advocates and forward-thinking policymakers for decades. Unfortunately, due primarily to the effectiveness of Big Ag’s lobbying efforts, the FDA and Congress have failed to implement any meaningful regulation of antibiotics in the agriculture sector.
While Consumers Union and other advocacy groups will continue to demand prudent antibiotics policies from Washington, the Meat Without Drugs campaign was created to drive change by harnessing the power of the consumer. The campaign calls on individuals to urge grocery stores to sell only meat from animals raised without antibiotics, starting with the major national chain Trader Joe’s.
As described by Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, “Trader Joe’s has a history of taking important positions against selling products that may harm public health and the environment. One of the most important public health issues the nation faces today is the declining effectiveness of antibiotics in treating human disease. We hope they will help start a sea change in the marketplace.”
We hope so, too. And we have reason to believe that this consumer campaign will be successful! According to a nationwide Consumer Reports poll, 86% of respondents indicated that meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local supermarket. More than 60% stated that they'd be willing to pay at least five cents per pound more for this meat – which is significant, since the “Meat on Drugs” report contends that pork and chicken could be raised without antibiotics at a cost to consumers of just five cents and one cent more per pound of meat, respectively. When you consider the fact that antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than two million people in the US per year (90,000 of whom die), and that these infections cost the country an estimated $20 billion annually, a few extra pennies per pound seem trivial.
Get involved in the Meat Without Drugs campaign by signing a petition to Trader Joe’s, by supporting grocery stores that offer meat from animals raised without antibiotics and by purchasing these products whenever possible. Use Consumers Union’s guide to sort through the confusing array of antibiotic-related meat labels. Use Eat Well Guide to find sustainably raised meat, eggs and dairy products near you.
*It should be noted that since it’s possible for factory farms to operate without administering antibiotics, eliminating the drugs from animal agriculture won’t prompt universal implementation of sustainable livestock husbandry practices overnight. But it will deal a tremendous blow to the factory farm model, making it significantly more difficult to raise animals in the extremely confined, squalid conditions that have become the norm. Getting antibiotics out of livestock production would thus constitute a big victory for public health, and a huge step toward establishing a sustainable food future.