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A majority of Americans want meat raised without antibiotics to be sold at their local supermarkets, according to a new national poll conducted by Consumer Reports. The poll is part of a recently released report, “Meat On Drugs: The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals and What Supermarkets and Consumers Can Do to Stop It.”
Consumers Union, the public policy and advocacy arm of the Consumer Reports publication, has simultaneously launched a marketplace campaign urging supermarkets to sell only meat raised without antibiotics, starting with Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s. It also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for stricter labeling standards for meat raised without antibiotics.
“We are asking supermarkets to step up to the challenge and tell their suppliers to procure only meat and poultry that has been raised without antibiotics,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Yonkers, N.Y.-based Consumers Union. “Antibiotics are losing their potency in people, leading to a major national health crisis, and we need to drastically reduce their use in food animals. We are calling on Trader Joe’s to be a leader and make this change now.”
The specialty retailer was singled out for its commitment to sustainable purchasing practices, and, according to the report, is one of the leading national supermarket chains offering much of its meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. “Trader Joe's has a history of taking important positions against selling products that may harm public health and the environment,” explained Halloran, adding, “We hope [Trader Joe’s] will help start a sea change in the marketplace.”
Key findings of the poll include
- 86 percent of consumers polled said that meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local supermarkets.
- More than 60 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to pay at least 5 cents a pound more for meat raised without antibiotics. More than a third (37 percent) would pay a dollar or more extra per pound.
- The majority of respondents (72 percent) were extremely or very concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed, including the potential to create “superbugs” that are immune or resistant to antibiotics. More than 60 percent were just as concerned with the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed, and environmental effects due to agricultural runoff containing antibiotics.
In an analysis of more than 20 labels related to antibiotic use, Consumer Reports found that consumers can always rely on the “organic” label, which by definition means no antibiotics can ever be used. Additionally, shoppers can generally rely on labels that imply that no antibiotics were used, especially if they are also “USDA Process Verified” (meaning that USDA has checked the producer). Other designations, such as “antibiotic-free,” “no antibiotic residues” and “no antibiotic growth promotants,” which aren’t approved by USDA, could be problematic, according to the organization.
“Consumers who want to buy meat raised without antibiotics need a system they can rely on to feel secure that the labels on those products are meaningful and accurate,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director, consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports. “Our shoppers and research found several instances of labels that could mislead consumers to believe they were buying meat from animals that were not given antibiotics, when in fact that is not necessarily the case. Consumers would benefit from one standard, meaningful, USDA-verified label that is consistent on all meat and poultry products from animals raised without antibiotics.”
The campaign, dubbed “Meat Without Drugs” includes a companion website and a new video in partnership with www.FixFood.org, a social media project of the 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” The video, helmed “Food, Inc.” director Robert Kenner and narrated by actor Bill Paxton, discusses the declining effectiveness of antibiotics.