Food Industry Survey on Antibiotics in Meat

US - Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who is at the vanguard of a campaign to reduce the use of antibiotics in meat production, has released findings from a new survey regarding the routine use of antibiotics in food animals.
calendar icon 4 July 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

In February, Congresswoman Slaughter sent a letter to over 60 fast food companies, meat producers, meat processors, and grocery store chains asking them to disclose their policies on antibiotic use in meat and poultry production.

"As Americans fire up their grills for the Fourth of July, my findings finally provide consumers with valuable information about the food they eat, and answer the question, 'what's in the beef?'" Ms Slaughter said.

"Through my survey, the food industry has provided us valuable information, and with that knowledge we must act. I urge consumers to consider today's findings when shopping, and I urge the FDA and my colleagues in Congress to strengthen our laws in order to fight the growing threat of superbugs. Until we do, the routine use of antibiotics will continue to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health."

Rep. Slaughter analysed responses to questions about antibiotic use in meat and poultry production.

She said the survey found that while a small number of industry leaders provide antibiotic-free meat and poultry products, an overwhelming majority of food production companies routinely feed low-doses of antibiotics to healthy food-animals. Decades of research have shown that this kind of misuse leads to an increase in superbugs.

Companies such as Whole Foods, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Niman Ranch, Bell & Evans, Coleman Natural Foods, Ozark Mountain Pork, Applegate Farms, and Sweetgreen are leading examples of businesses that have succeeded without relying upon the routine use of antibiotics. According to survey findings, these companies provide a high degree of transparency into their food production processes, and do not use antibiotics on healthy animals.

Meanwhile, the majority of surveyed companies were found to routinely use antibiotics in food animals, both as a preventive health measure and to promote faster animal growth.

Rep. Slaughter is the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would end the routine use of antibiotics on healthy animals and curb the growing threat of superbugs. PAMTA would preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by phasing out the use of these drugs in healthy food-producing animals, while allowing their use for treatment of sick animals.

"Consumers want more information about whether antibiotics were used in producing the meat they buy," said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, which recently published the report "Meat On Drugs."

Ms Halloran added: "In our national survey, 86 per cent of consumers said meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local supermarket. Our secret shoppers visited 136 supermarkets in 23 states, and found wide differences among supermarkets as to whether they stocked meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. We need Congress to pass PAMTA to curb the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed and stop the spread of superbugs."

"Now more than ever consumers want to know how their food is produced and where it comes from," said Robert Kenner, who directed the 2009 documentary Food, Inc. and is now the Executive Director at FixFood, a nonprofit partner of the Meat Without Drugs campaign.

"It's imperative that Congress pass PAMTA to keep factory farms from making us vulnerable to diseases that were once treatable. In the meantime, these companies have an important role to play in responding to consumer demand while looking out for the public health."

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