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Meat without drugs

Growing concerns about antibiotics used in turkey, beef, chicken, and more

Published: November 2012

Thanksgiving kicks off the end-of-year holiday season and a gastronomical marathon that, for many, includes a veritable smorgasbord of poultry and meat.

At Consumers Union, we’re concerned about the antibiotics used on turkeys, chickens, cows, pigs, and other food animals, so we’re taking a serious look at the meat and poultry Americans eat.

Why? Some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on food animals, mostly to make them grow faster or prevent disease in crowded, unsanitary conditions. Our concern is that the overuse of antibiotics in food animals promotes the spread of drug-resistant superbugs and makes antibiotics less effective for humans. It’s time to stop the daily feeding of antibiotics to healthy food animals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance is leading to higher treatment costs, longer hospital stays, and unnecessary deaths. The CDC estimates that nearly 100,000 people die from infections they pick up in the hospital every year. The vast majority are caused by bacteria that have developed resistance to the antibiotics used to treat them. 

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs from the farm are showing up on meat and poultry and cause serious illness and even death. Consumer Reports found in 2010 that two-thirds of the chicken samples it tested were contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter or both and that more than 60 percent of those organisms were antibiotic resistant.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked drug companies and livestock growers to voluntarily eliminate growth-promotion uses of antibiotics over the next three years. Consumers Union has long urged the FDA to take stronger action and has called on the agency to restrict the use of antibiotics in food animals to the treatment of veterinarian-diagnosed sick animals only.

In June, Consumers Union launched the Meat Without Drugs campaign to encourage grocery stores to move away from selling meat and poultry raised on a steady diet of antibiotics. We are initially targeting Trader Joe’s because this national specialty grocer already offers some antibiotic-free meat and poultry and has taken recent stands in support of other sustainable purchasing practices.

The Meat Without Drugs campaign has presented Trader Joe’s with a petition signed by more than a half million consumers urging the grocer to stop selling meat and poultry raised on antibiotics. So far, Trader Joe’s has been unwilling to meet with us to discuss the issue.

For Thanksgiving, some grocers, including Trader Joe’s, are offering consumers the choice of antibiotic-free turkeys for their holiday tables. But we want grocers to stop selling antibiotic meat year-round, not just during the holidays.

Check out the Consumers Union fact sheet on how the overuse of antibiotics in food animals threatens public health, and consider signing our petition to Trader Joe’s to ask the company to stop selling antibiotic raised meat year-round.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the public-policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

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