January 20, 2018

Consumer Reports Tackles Antibiotics in Meat

We’ve reported many times in the past few months on the issue of antibiotic use in food animals. Organizations such as the World Health Organization, National Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future have been petitioning the FDA to stop the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food animals and have been publishing studies on the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Label on MeatsOn June 20, 2012, Consumer reports released the result of a poll that found 86 percent of consumers want to buy meat raised without antibiotics. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said they would pay a dollar or more extra per pound for antibiotic-free meat. The majority of respondents were “extremely or very concerned about issues related to the use of antibiotics in animal feed.”

Consumer Reports also released a report on the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals called “Meat On Drugs“. In that report, they state that 99,000 people died of hospital-acquired infections in 2002. The vast majority of those infections were caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Since about 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in this country are used in the food given to farm animals, to boost growth and prevent disease, doctors being careful in their prescriptions of antibiotics has only a limited effect on the growth of these superbugs.

Large corporations, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and supermarket chains, along with consumers, can have an effect on this practice. Corporations can purchase meat from those who produce it without antibiotics, and supermarkets and consumers can choose not to buy meat and poultry from producers who use antibiotics.

Consumer Reports sent shoppers to 136 supermarkets in 23 states to look for antibiotic-free meat. This is what they found:

  • Whole Foods guarantees their meat and poultry is never treated with antibiotics.
  • There are good selections of antibiotic-free meat and poultry at:
    • Giant
    • Hannaford
    • Shaw’s
    • Stop & Shop
  • Shoppers at these stores couldn’t find antibiotic-free meat or poultry:
    • Sam’s Club
    • Food 4 Less
    • Food Lion
    • Save-A-Lot

The report says that meat and poultry raised without antibiotics does not have to be more expensive than conventionally-raised products. Studies have found that antibiotic-free pork should cost about 5 cents extra per pound, and less than a penny more per pound for chicken.

When you’re looking for antibiotic-free meat and poultry, these are terms you can rely on:

  • Organic
  • No antibiotics (with the USDA Processed Verified Label)
  • Raised Without Antibiotics (with the USDA Process Verified Label)

On the other hands, these terms do not mean that no antibiotics were given to the animals:

  • Natural (just means no artificial ingredients added)
  • Antibiotic-free (not USDA approved)
  • No antibiotic residues (not USDA approved)
  • No antibiotic growth promotants (not USDA approved, and the animal could still have been given antibiotics to prevent disease)
  • Grassfed, if this term appears alone (could still be given antibiotics)

The report also includes a chart indicating which supermarket chains carry store brands of meat and poultry that are antibiotic-free, along with company policies on this issue.

Many organizations and food safety experts are frustrated with the FDA’s delay and appeals on this issue in the face of overwhelming evidence that sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food animals is not safe.

Our stories on antibiotic use in animals:

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