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Does your food contain dangerous ‘superbugs’?

The constant use of antibiotics by some industrial farms has serious consequences

Published: April 2013

Danielle Wadsworth thought nothing of the ground beef she cooked up one night to make tacos for dinner. But several days later, quarantined in the hospital and fighting for her life, she was told that she was sickened by Salmonella typhmurium, an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella that was later traced to the beef she’d eaten. Today, she feels lucky to be alive.

Wadsworth was joined by more than 50 other advocates in Washington, D.C., this month to increase awareness of antibiotic resistance and its connection to meat production. Livestock raised on industrial farms are often given constant doses of antibiotics to prevent disease in unsanitary living conditions; the antibiotics also make the animals grow faster. These practices create antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ that can get into our environment and the very food we eat, as Wadsworth learned.

As part of the Supermoms Against Superbugs event hosted by Pew Charitable Trusts (and co-sponsored by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports) the advocates met with their elected officials and asked them to support legislation that would rein in the use of antibiotics on industrial farms in order to preserve the drugs' effectiveness to treat human illnesses.

The advocates urged for the passage of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) introduced by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). The legislation would end the use of medically important antibiotics on farms except to treat sick animals. They also discussed the need for the Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), which would require better reporting by industry regarding which antibiotics are being given to animals and for what purpose.

The ‘Supermoms’ group, originally named for the mom-advocates whose children were sickened—and in some cases even killed—by antibiotic-resistant infections, has grown to encompass farmers, chefs, pediatricians, scientists, dietitians, and others from all over the country with a personal connection to this issue and a willingness to fight for change.

Consumers Union, along with several of our activists, was proud to join this group in support of legislative efforts to better regulate how antibiotics are used and reported on industrial farms. But consumers and corporations can often move the marketplace to make change happen faster than legislators or regulators. That’s why we’re also urging grocery stores, starting with Trader Joe’s, to take a stand for public health and stop selling meat raised on antibiotics.

Take a minute to tell Trader Joe's to be a leader and kick its antibiotic-raised meat to the curb.

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.

Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.

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