Imagine a world where the medicines we use to treat common illnesses, like strep throat and ear infections, no longer work.
Public-health advocates argue this kind of public health crisis could fast become a reality if antibiotic use in the agriculture industry is not reduced or eliminated. Â Currently, 80 percent ofÂ antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by the meat and poultry industries toÂ accelerate the growth (fatten)Â of most beef, chicken and pork sold in U.S. supermarkets. This practice is believed to result in “superbugs,” bacteria resistant to one or more antibiotics, that can cause deadly diseases in humans.
Other countries already recognize the danger this poses. The European Union banned the use of antibiotics in 1999. But while numerous experts have already called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban antibiotics use in animal feed, their arguments have been stymied by the pharmaceutical and large-scale livestock industries.
Last week, Â Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, released a report on consumer attitudes to the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.Â In partnership withÂ FixFood, they concurrently launched theÂ Meat Without DrugsÂ campaign in hopes of inspiring citizen action. The report and campaign aim to empower citizens and retailers with the economic, labeling and consumer insight data necessary to make more informed food choices, ultimately shifting antibiotic use through purchasing power.
“Although antibiotics remain legal to use on food animals, supermarkets can choose not to carry, and consumers can choose not to buy, meat and poultry from animals that are fed antibiotics. The vast majority of all meat and poultry produced inÂ the United States is either sold to consumers in supermarkets and grocery stores or consumed in restaurants and schools and other institutions. (The remainder, about 15 percent, is exported.),” says the report.
Consumer ReportsÂ sent shoppers to 136 stores of the 13 largest supermarket chains in 23 states to see what meat and poultry products raised without antibiotics are being sold and for how much. In addition, they also conducted aÂ nationwide survey of 1,000 U.S. residents in March 2012. Key findings include:
- 86 percent of the consumersÂ thinkÂ meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local supermarket.
- 24 percent of consumers said meat raised without antibiotics was not available at the supermarket where theyÂ usually shop. Of this group, 82 percent said they would buy it if it were available.
- 61Â percent of consumers would pay an additionalÂ 5 cents or more Â per pound for antibiotic free meat and poultry; 37 percentÂ indicated they would pay $1.00 a pound or more.
- 72 percent of consumers are very concerned about the widespread use of antibiotics creating new superbugs that cause illnesses that antibioticsÂ cannot cure
- While consumers can trust “organicâ labels, since organic certification precludes antibiotic use in livestock, other labels such asÂ ânatural,â âantibiotic-free,â âno antibiotic residues,â and âno antibiotic growth promotants” can not be trusted. Antibiotics may also be present in cases where “grassfed” appears without being coupled with an “organic” certification.
- Of the 13 largest U.S. supermarket chains,Â Whole Foods is the only chain to sell only meat andÂ poultry raised without antibiotics.
- Giant, Hannaford, Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Publix, and Trader Joe’, however, offered wide selections of these products.
- Meat and poultry raised without antibiotics does not always have to be expensive. Consumer ReportsÂ shoppers, found chicken raised without antibiotics for as little as $1.29 per pound in three chains.
The Meat Without Drugs campaign calls on citizens to urge grocery stores to only sell meat from animals raised without antibiotics, starting with Trader Joeâs.
To learn more, watch the video below fromÂ Food, Inc. Director Robert Kenner and narrated by actor Bill Paxton. You canÂ sign the petition here to get involved.