The following article is posted with permission from the office of Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter.
On February 16, 2012, Rep. Slaughter sent a letter to more than 60 fast food companies, meat producers, meat processors and grocery store chains asking them to disclose their policies on antibiotic use in meat and poultry production. Almost half of the companies replied to Rep. Slaughter’s request, giving public health experts, legislators and members of the American public insight into the use of antibiotics in food animals. The findings from Rep. Slaughter’s survey are clear: there is an urgent need to change the practices of American food producers to ensure that antibiotics are used responsibly in the production of food animals.
What follows are top-line survey findings, links to original content and additional resources. To view the original letter from Rep. Slaughter to food companies, click here.
1. A small number of companies are leading the effort to provide exclusively antibiotic-free meat and poultry products.
Companies such as Whole Foods, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Niman Ranch, Bell & Evans, Coleman Natural Foods, Ozark Mountain Pork, Applegate Farms and Sweetgreen are leading examples of businesses that have succeeded without relying upon the routine use of antibiotics to produce the meat and poultry that they sell. According to survey findings, these companies provide a high degree of transparency regarding the food production practices that they or their suppliers employ and do not use antibiotics on healthy animals.
2. An overwhelming majority of companies regularly use antibiotics in food-animals as a preventive health measure and to promote faster animal growth.
Forty-four companies were found to use or purchase meat produced with a “moderate” or “routine” amount of antibiotics. These companies frequently failed to provide details regarding their antibiotic use, and rely upon the regular use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry that they produce or purchase.
3. The law, as currently written, is failing to address the threat of superbugs
Based upon these findings, and the increasing evidence that ties antibiotic use in healthy animals to the growth of superbugs, it is clear that additional action must be taken by private industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Congress. This finding reaffirms the need for legislation such as the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). Authored by Rep. Slaughter, PAMTA would preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by phasing out the use of these drugs in healthy food-producing animals, while allowing their use for treatment of sick animals.
About the Survey
Over the course of the survey, Rep. Slaughter was able to gather information regarding the use of antibiotics by 53 major food companies or their suppliers. 31 companies responded directly to Rep. Slaughter . Additional web-based research resulted in relevant information for another 22 companies.
Together, these companies were rated based upon two criteria: transparency and antibiotic use policy. With regards to transparency, companies were placed into 1 of 3 categories:
Full disclosure — Company provided detailed responses to each question posed by Rep. Slaughter
Some questions answered — Company provided answers to some, but not all, questions posed by Rep. Slaughter
Minimal disclosure — Company provided little, if any detail, to the questions posed by Rep. Slaughter
Companies were also rated on their policies regarding antibiotic use. They were placed into one of the following three categories:
Antibiotic-Free Only — Company provides only antibiotic-free meat and poultry products. Antibiotics are not used on healthy animals. Antibiotics are used ONLY for treatment of sick animals.
Moderate Antibiotic Use — Company uses antibiotics on healthy and sick animals for purposes other than growth promotion
Routine Antibiotic Use — Company uses antibiotics on healthy and sick animals for all purposes, including growth promotion
In addition to these ratings, Slaughter noted where companies provide antibiotic-free options for consumers. View these charts in order to learn more about the practices of specific food industries. To download a master document of all original responses, click here.
Below are additional resources regarding superbugs and the role of the overuse of antibiotics in meat production.
Meat and ‘superbugs’ (Washington Post, June 2012)
Pig Out (Nature Magazine, June 2012)
“The Dangerous Superbugs Hiding in Your Dinner” (SELF Magazine, May 2012)
“Antibiotics Are Not Candy” (REDBOOK Magazine, May 2012)
“FDA’s Guidance on Antibiotic Use in Livestock: Not What the Doctor Ordered” (NRDC Switchboard, April 2012)
“Early Sneak Peek: Resistance the Film” (Superbug, February 2012)
“How Using Antibiotics in Animal Feed Creates Superbugs” (NPR, February 2012)
“The Rise of Antibiotic Resistance: Consequence of FDA’s Inaction” (TheAtlantic.com, January 2012)
Meat Without Drugs (Fix Food Campaign)
Food Production & the Public’s Health: Antibiotic Resistance (The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future)
Prescription for Trouble: Using Antibiotics to Fatten Livestock (Union for Concerned Scientists)
Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming (The PEW Charitable Trusts)
“Meat on Drugs” (Consumer Reports, 2012)
“Antibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens: Evidence of the Need for a Risk Management Strategy” (Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2012)
“Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America” (Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, 2009)
To learn more about the threat from superbugs and the dangers of the overuse of antibiotics on animals, watch this 90-second video. To learn more about Rep. Slaughter's work to address this growing threat to public health, click here.