If you happened to be in New York City’s Union Square this morning, you may have seen something unusual — “Joe the Pig”, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, and a crowd of concerned consumers calling on Trader Joe’s to help get Joe off drugs. The crowd, gathered in front of Trader Joe’s flagship NYC store, was there to deliver a simple message: using antibiotics on livestock that don’t need them threatens the health of people who do. And Trader Joe’s can actually do something about it.
Trader Joe’s is already a leader in environmentally conscious food sourcing. Today, the company’s customers asked it to use its buying power to help change the way our livestock industry raises the chicken, pigs, cows, and other food animals that end up on our plates. With a petition signed by more than 557,772 worried consumers in hand, those gathered asked Trader Joe’s to source and sell only meat raised without antibiotics. With growing momentum across the nation to get antibiotics out of our meat, the event spotlighted the critical role national grocery chains play in fighting antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.
In a nationwide poll, 86 percent of consumers said they thought meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local supermarket. The majority of respondents (72 percent) were extremely or very concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed potentially creating “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics.
Americans are right to be concerned. Today, a whopping 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on farm animals that we eat, the vast majority of which are not even sick. This widespread abuse of antibiotics on factory farms—which involves routinely feeding antibiotics to farm animals to make them grow fatter faster and to compensate for crowded and unsanitary conditions—creates a dangerous breeding ground for “superbugs”, strains of drug-resistant bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Staph. These superbugs travel off the farm, putting consumers at risk of acquiring serious, and even life-threatening, infections.
Superbugs are also showing up on our meat. A recent study of meat and poultry from five U.S. cities found Staphylococcus aureus on 47 percent of samples. 96 percent of those samples were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and 52 percent were multi-drug resistant. Tests conducted by the FDA routinely show high levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria on retail meat. In 2010, almost 52 percent of chicken breasts tested were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant E. coli. Significant percentages of meat samples were contaminated with bacteria resistant to 3 or more classes of antibiotics.
Families shouldn't have to worry every time they bring fresh meat home from the grocery store. Consumers, and the supermarkets that sell us our meat, have a choice. If supermarkets no longer stocked meat and poultry grown with antibiotics, antibiotic use in livestock production would drop dramatically. It’s that simple.
And it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Farmers around the world, from Texas to Denmark, have shown that we can raise healthy livestock and save money without the use of antibiotics. In 1999 the National Research Council estimated that if we were to take steps in the U.S. to eliminate all non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, it would cost grocery shoppers less than $10 annually. In today’s dollars that would be $13.50 — less than $1.25 per month per person, or just a few cents per pound.
The bottom line is that antibiotics are NOT a necessary livestock production tool but they ARE essential to modern medicine. This is about putting the health of people first and protecting life-saving drugs we need for our families.
But to make it happen, large meat buyers like Trader Joe’s need to hear from us that we expect them to step up. If you haven’t already done so, sign the Meat without Drugs petition calling on Trader Joe’s to move to 100 percent meat raised without antibiotics in its meat aisles. Next time you’re on your way to Trader Joe’s, bring this flyer with you and give it to the store manager. Together, we can flex our collective consumer muscle and push Trader Joe’s across this important finish line.