Antibiotics Use in Livestock Comes Under Scrutiny

Written By:
WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Yonkers, NY—Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in April that it would seek to restrict the use of antibiotics in agricultural production, there has been more movement on this controversial front. Critics claim that overuse of antibiotics in livestock feed, done to promote animal growth and prevent disease, can create drug-resistant strains of diseases, making antibiotics less effective for humans.

A Consumer Reports publication revealed that 86% of consumers want to see meat produced without antibiotics on supermarket shelves. Consumers Union, the public policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has also created the “Meat Without Drugs” marketing campaign, which urges supermarkets including Trader Joe’s to sell only meat from animals raised without antibiotics. In response, a coalition of meat industry organizations sent a letter to two Senate committees on agriculture, stressing their opinion of the importance and safety of raising livestock with antibiotics.

As part of its poll and report, Consumer Reports sent shoppers to stores from the 13 largest supermarket chains to see if and to what degree they sold meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. Whole Foods Market stores exclusively sell meat with antibiotic-free production methods, while other stores like Sam’s Club and Food Lion did not offer any “no antibiotics administered” meat products.

 The report also examined the way labels found on meat products address the antibiotics question. Some labels, the report said, such as “never ever given antibiotics” and “humanely raised on family farms without antibiotics” can generally be relied upon, and certified organic products fall in this class by definition. However, some labels like “antibiotic-free” and “no antibiotic residues” can mislead consumers, because they are not guarantees that antibiotics were not used in raising the animal, only implying that they currently contain no antibiotics. Consumer Reports has previously called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to standardize antibiotics labels.

“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. We agree there needs to be dialogue about the use of antibiotics in farm animals, but we stand firm that antibiotics, when used properly and under the oversight of a veterinarian, are critical to making food safe,” read part of the industry’s response letter to Congress, signed by organizations like the American Meat Institute and the National Pork Producers Council. Though Consumer Reports claims that 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on farm animals, the meat industry writes that some antibiotics used in livestock are designed differently than human antibiotics, and cannot be compared to them.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Septebmer 2012 (online 7/13/12)