Hackathon Challenge: Empowering 1 Million Consumers to Demand Meat Without Antibiotics

It's almost here, good food advocates! This weekend, June 21-23, GRACE joins partners Food+Tech Connect and Applegate in Palo Alto, California, to host HACK//MEAT: Silicon Valley, the second in our series of meat hackathons, collaborative events that bring together technologists, entrepreneurs, farmers, creatives, policy experts and non-profit  leaders to develop new tools that will support local food systems and help create a more sustainable food future. Animal agriculture is in a state of crisis and because of its devastating effects on public health and our communities, we must find real solutions to create change. GRACE has long seen new media as a powerful venue for communicating these issues, and we look again to technology to help solve these problems. We're thrilled to see these hackathons becoming gathering spaces for powerful cross-sector collaboration, education and innovation.

Throughout the weekend, teams working with facilitators and experts will tackle specific challenges posed by industry "steakholders," ultimately concepting solutions for how meat is produced, marketed, distributed and consumed. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and GRACE are posing the following challenge, which addresses the irresponsible use of antibiotics in meat production. As described in the brief below, the misuse of antibiotics by industrial livestock producers contributes to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which decreases the efficacy of drugs, threatening the health of animals and humans alike.

For those not joining us live in Silicon Valley, you can still participate!

Follow the Hacking Meat Online Conversation and explore how information and technology can be used to reimagine a better future for sustainable meat producers, consumers and advocates. Share your thoughts, ideas and questions on Twitter (hashtag #hackmeat) and Facebook.

How can we find, recruit and empower a million consumer activists to demand meat without antibiotics?

Natural Resources Defense Council Challenge, in partnership with GRACE Communications Foundation

What is your challenge?

Eighty percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for livestock use, mostly for growth promotion and to compensate for unsanitary, crowded, stressful living conditions. Repeated use of these life-saving drugs for animals is breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs, which increasingly threaten people's health and jeopardizes the efficacy of medicine.

Last year, a federal court sided with NRDC and ordered FDA to begin cancellation proceedings for two important classes of antibiotics and to evaluate the safety of others.  But FDA has since appealed and the outcome is still pending.  Now it's time to take our case to the court of public opinion where consumers can influence the most powerful food companies.

We know that many consumers are concerned about the use of antibiotics in animal feed, according to a Consumer Reports study published last March. We also know that the market is powerful. Supermarkets and consumers can shift antibiotic use in animals through their purchasing decisions.  So how can we find, recruit and empower a million consumer activists to demand meat produced without non-therapeutic antibiotics?

Who is affected by this challenge? How are they affected? Who are your target users?

Food activists, parents (especially moms), patients and their families who have been hit with an antibiotic resistant infection, and health care providers.  

Major food companies and retailers can drive change in their supply chains.  Consumers can influence them by voting with their pocket book and threatening brands with a public call to action.

How are you currently solving the problem? Are there any technologies that solve similar problems? What works and what doesn't work about how you are solving it?

In addition to our advocacy and litigation, NRDC is increasingly interested in activating the private sector.  We are meeting with food companies and asking for change.  But they need to hear from consumers directly.  While food is an increasingly hot topic, we face a media-saturated field.  Going forward, we want to build a more interactive experience for this group and find ways for consumers to meaningfully participate in making change -- beyond a "click here" action alert.  Consumers can vote with their pocketbook to reward more sustainable products.  But their greatest power may be in threatening the brands of unresponsive companies by socializing a demand for change.

How would a person use the tool?

Our main goals are to create a scalable package for 1 ) educating and inspiring our target audiences; 2 ) giving them an exciting, humorous or empowering personal action that they can take; and 3 ) giving them the means and incentive to pass this along 4 ) Creative ideas for reaching, inspiring and activating our target audiences - beyond "write your congressperson." 

Are there any constraints?

We have to be careful not to overstate the health risks of antibiotic resistant bacteria on fresh retail meat.  While fresh meat is indeed typically contaminated with these pathogens, resistant bacteria on meat is part of a larger problem of proliferating drug-resistant bacteria to our air, water, soil and communities.

Mainstream food companies like Chipotle and Panera Bread serve millions of antibiotic-free meals at affordable prices.  While we support animal husbandry without antibiotics, we believe that livestock producers can continue to use antibiotics safely by avoiding routine uses and conforming to a strict safe-use policy.

What resources, data and assets are available for this project?

NRDC fact sheet: describes the issue generally and providing examples of antibiotics we rely on to treat human diseases that are also used for livestock production.

Sustainable Table - Antibiotics Issue Page - an overview of nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in industrial livestock production and the problems created by this irresponsible practice.

Ecocentric Blog - recent posts about the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture from GRACE's blog.

USDA's system for tracking fresh meat: currently requires all fresh meat products to bear a facility ID number that can be used to look up the name, address and phone number of the facility where the meat was processed. Perhaps this could be used to enable direct consumer-to-company communication.

Consumer Reports Meat on Drugs Report: report includes data on consumer insights, retail product offerings, pricing and labeling.

Quotes from mainstream heath care organizations like the Infectious Disease Society of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Bibliography of Scientific Studies for Antibiotic Resistance and Food Animal Production: extensive scientific literature indicates that repeated dosing of livestock with antibiotics breeds drug-resistant bacteria that can escape from the feedlot and threaten humans; these bacteria can even transfer genetic "resistance traits" and confer drug resistance to other bacteria.   

"Meat Eater's Guide": Environmental Working Group's guide includes summary of FDA testing data characterizing the frequency that drug resistant bacteria are found on retail meats. 

Pew Health Data Visualizations 


Contact: Jonathan Kaplan, Director, Food and Ag Program, Natural Resources Defense Council ([email protected]

Destin Layne, Director, Food Program, GRACE Communications Foundation ([email protected])