CU: Trader Joe’s stop selling meat on antibiotics

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Wednesday, December 17, 2012

Trader Joe’s Urged to Get “Joe the Pig” Off Drugs For the Holidays
Meat Without Drugs Campaign Makes Holiday Push In San Francisco
To Convince Trader Joe’s to Stop Selling Meat Raised on Antibiotics
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – At a news conference in front of Trader Joe’s Nob Hill store in San Francisco, Consumers Union’s Meat Without Drugs campaign called on the national specialty grocer to stop selling meat and poultry raised on a steady diet of antibiotics.

The Meat Without Drugs campaign is asking Trader Joe’s to help address a major public health crisis: the declining effectiveness of antibiotics caused by their overuse in meat and poultry production. The campaign is supported by more than a dozen consumer, health, environmental, and animal welfare organizations and over half a million consumers who have signed a petition calling on the grocer to sell only meat and poultry raised without antibiotics.

“We’ve got to stop the routine use of antibiotics in healthy food animals which promotes dangerous superbugs and threatens public health,” said Elisa Odabashian, Director of the West Coast Office of Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “Trader Joe’s should stop selling meat raised with antibiotics to help end this reckless practice.”

Wednesday’s event featured “Joe the Pig,” a costumed character wearing a Trader Joe’s-style Hawaiian shirt and Santa hat who carried a sign that squealed “Get Me Off Drugs!” Joe is helping to get the word out on Twitter @getjoeoffdrugs Shoppers have recently sent over 10,000 holiday postcards to Trader Joe’s in support of the campaign and participants in today’s event sang holiday carols with special lyrics aimed at encouraging Trader Joe’s to be a leader on this public health issue.

Consumers Union and a score of public health groups and other advocates have long urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to limit the use of antibiotics in food animal production because their overuse encourages the spread of drug-resistant superbugs and makes the critical medications less effective for people. After decades of inaction by the FDA, Consumers Union is working to convince grocery stores — starting with Trader Joe’s — to only sell meat raised without antibiotics. Trader Joe’s has been unwilling to meet with Consumers Union to discuss the issue.

“NRDC took FDA to court to compel it to limit antibiotic use on factory farms and won – twice,” said Avinash Kar, health attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Unfortunately, the agency has failed to take real action. We’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure that the Agency abides by the court’s orders. But we also need to act as consumers and demand that businesses make the changes necessary to ensure that our meat is produced without antibiotics.”
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Some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on food animals, mostly to make them grow faster or prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions. As a result of large scale use of antibiotics in livestock production, most of the bugs that are vulnerable to the antibiotics are eventually killed off, leaving behind superbugs that are immune to one or more of the drugs. These superbugs spread on the farm and beyond, contributing to antibiotic resistance in hospitals and our communities.

“Antibiotics are a critical tool in medicine but many of them are losing their power to treat people,” said Dr. Robert Gould, Director of Health Professional Outreach and Education for UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, and President of the SF-Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The continued misuse of antibiotics in industrial food animal production is contributing to drug-resistant pathogens that can cause serious, difficult to treat illnesses and even death.”

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs from the farm are showing up on meat and poultry sold in grocery stores. A Consumer Reports investigation released in November found that 69 percent of the pork chops and ground pork tested positive for Yersinia enterocolitica, bacteria that is estimated to cause foodborne illness in about 100,000 Americans each year. Most of the bacteria found by Consumer Reports were resistant to at least one of the tested antibiotic drugs.

Similarly, Consumer Reports found in 2010 that two-thirds of the chicken samples it tested were contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter or both and that more than 60 percent of those organisms were antibiotic-resistant.

While most grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s, carry some no-antibiotic meat and poultry, Whole Foods is the only store that sells these products exclusively, according to a Consumer Reports investigation. The campaign is targeting Trader Joe’s because it already offers some chicken and beef raised without antibiotics, although no pork. Eighty percent of its products are private label, which means it has direct control over its suppliers. In recent years, the grocer has made a commitment to other sustainable purchasing practices, such as only carrying eggs from cage-free hens and sourcing its private label products with non-genetically modified ingredients.

Contact: Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org,
415-902-9537 (cell) or 415-431-6747, ext 126