Release date 10/23/2014
The overwhelming majority of doctors— 93 percent—are concerned about the common meat industry practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention, according to a new poll released today by Consumer Reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many other public health organizations have warned that the misuse of antibiotics on healthy livestock is making these medications less effective for treating disease in people.
Several consumer and public health organizations have joined forces to address this issue. Poll results, analysis, and policy recommendations are available in a new report, Prescription For Change [PDF], collaborative effort that includes Consumers Union, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Health Care Without Harm, USPIRG, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Physicians Alliance, and Healthy Food Action. Media events are taking place today in eight cities around the country, including Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago to call on large institutions and supermarket chains to help end the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.
As part of this effort, Consumers Union delivered a letter, signed by over 2,000 medical professionals, to Trader Joe’s headquarters near Los Angeles, CA, as part of Consumers Union’s multi-year campaign asking the grocer to take a stand for public health by selling only meat from animals raised without the routine use of antibiotics. Consumers Union highlighted the letter and the poll results in a full-page ad [PDF] in today’s Los Angeles Times.
“This poll underscores how important it is to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics. Supermarket chains have huge leverage with meat producers, and we are urging Trader Joe’s to lead the way on getting antibiotics out of meat and poultry production,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports’ poll found that 97% of doctors are concerned about the growing problem of drug-resistant infections–an understandable worry given that nearly a third of doctors polled have had a patient die or suffer significant complications within the last year from a multi-drug resistant infection. Those numbers are even higher for doctors who work in both outpatient and hospital settings.
“We all must take action to save the effectiveness of these drugs,” said Jason Newland, M.D., Medical Director of Patient Safety at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, who signed the letter to Trader Joe’s. “This means doctors shouldn’t prescribe antibiotics for viral infections, and patients and parents shouldn’t demand an antibiotic when it’s not necessary. It also means the meat industry must stop using antibiotics for growth promotion and to prevent infections of healthy animals.”
Some other key findings of the Consumer Reports survey include:
85% percent of doctors report that one or more of their patients have had either a presumed or confirmed case of a multi-drug resistant infection in the past 12 months.
Of those doctors who had treated a confirmed or suspected case of a multi-drug resistant infection, 35% treated a patient who either died or suffered significant complications as a result of the illness. That number jumps to nearly half for doctors who work in both outpatient and hospital settings.
80% of doctors agree that the group, hospital, or practice they work for is actively working to minimize the inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics.
“Patients’ lives are at risk as once-curable infections no longer respond to antibiotics, much of which is due to the overuse of these medically critical drugs,” said Dan Uslan, M.D., an infectious disease specialist who oversees UCLA Medical Center’s Antibiotic Stewardship Program. “We must confront this problem in humans as well as animals before we lose the use of these critical drugs for good.”
Background: Consumer Groups Addressing the Growing Problem of Antibiotic Use in Animals
Some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used not on humans but on animals. These antibiotics are regularly fed to healthy animals like cows, pigs, and poultry to make them grow faster and to prevent disease in often crowded and unsanitary conditions on today’s industrial farms. A report released in early October from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed that antibiotics use in livestock production increased 16% between 2009-2012.
“Doctors need antibiotics to keep working, and they want factory farms to stop using the medicine on healthy animals. Nearly every major public health group has come out against this practice, saying reforms are needed if antibiotics are to continue working, and yet the meat industry acts as if it’s too bitter a pill to swallow,” said Sujatha Jahagirdar, Stop Antibiotics Overuse Program Director at USPIRG.
When antibiotics are used on the farm, the bugs that are vulnerable to them tend to be killed off, leaving behind “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread from the farm to our communities via meat and poultry, farmworkers, and through the air, soil, and water. As antibiotic resistance increases, the medications used to treat infections in people become less effective.
Consumer, medical and public health organizations have long urged Congress and the FDA to take action to curtail the overuse of antibiotics in meat production, but meaningful efforts have been stymied by the pharmaceutical and livestock industries for decades. Consumers Union has also pushed for change in the marketplace through its campaign to convince grocery stores—starting with Trader Joe’s—to stop selling meat from animals raised on antibiotics. Over 80% of Trader Joe’s products are private label, which means the chain has more control over its suppliers and can use that leverage to increase supply and keep prices competitive.
“Trader Joe’s is in an excellent position to be a real industry leader on this issue,” said Halloran. “It could make a big difference by sourcing its meat from suppliers that don't rely on antibiotics to keep animals healthy in crowded and unsanitary conditions. We are urging Trader Joe’s to take a stand for public health by responding to the hundreds of thousands of consumers and over 2,000 medical professionals across the country who have asked the store to make this commitment.”
In September 2014, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted an online survey of 500 family practice and internal medicine physicians in the U.S. who regularly prescribe antibiotics, using a random sample drawn from a panel of family care and internal medicine doctors managed by M3 Global Research. Most of the doctors surveyed work primarily in an outpatient setting (378), 22% (108) work in both inpatient and outpatient settings, and another 3% (14) work primarily in an inpatient setting.
Signatures of medical professionals to Trader Joe’s were gathered by National Physicians Alliance, Consumers Union, SF Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, and USPIRG.
Naomi Starkman, Consumers Union, 917.539.3924 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sujatha Jahagirdar, USPIRG, 323.309.6120 or email@example.com