LOS ANGELES — Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is taking aim at Trader Joe’s in a full page ad it took out in the Los Angeles Times.
The union is calling out Trader Joe's for selling meat and poultry from animals raised on antibiotics. The ad highlights how the overuse of antibiotics by the meat and poultry industries on healthy animals is promoting the spread of drug resistant superbugs that threaten public health.
Consumers Union has also taken to the streets and social media sites alike, spreading the word aggressively on social media as well as sidewalk leafleting outreach efforts at Trader Joe's stores in the Los Angeles area as well as Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C. The outreach effort will expand to Trader Joe's stores in other cities in the coming weeks.
"It's critical that we do everything possible to curb the growing public health crisis of antibiotic resistance," said Jean Halloran , director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union. "Virtually every respected medical and public health organization agrees that we must reduce the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock in order to preserve the effectiveness of these drugs to treat disease."
Consumers Union has pushed Congress and the FDA to take action to curtail antibiotic use in meat production, but these efforts have been blocked by politically powerful pharmaceutical and livestock industry interests for decades. Last year, Consumers Union launched its Meat Without Drugs campaign to convince grocery stores — starting with Trader Joe's — to sell only meat raised without antibiotics.
According to Consumers Union, about 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used not on humans but rather on livestock. These antibiotics are fed to healthy animals like cows, pigs, and chickens to make them grow faster and to prevent disease in often crowded and unsanitary conditions on today's factory farms. While public health campaigns are helping to curb the overuse of antibiotics in humans, the advocacy group has found that use of antibiotics in livestock has steadily increased its use of antibiotics throughout the past decade.
When antibiotics are used on the farm, the bugs that are vulnerable to them tend to be killed off, leaving behind bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can spread from the farm to communities via meat and poultry, farmworkers and through the air, soil, and water. As antibiotic resistance increases, the medications we all depend on become less effective.
More than 500,000 consumers have signed petitions, postcards and flyers in support of Consumers Union's campaign. However, Trader Joe's has so far refused to change its practices or even meet with Consumers Union to discuss the issue. Trader Joe's offers some chicken, turkey and beef raised without antibiotics, but no pork. While the advocacy group sees this as a step in the right direction, it feels Trader Joe’s has not gone far enough.
"Continuing to sell meat from animals that are routinely fed antibiotics contributes to the development and spread of antibiotic resistance," said Halloran. "Trader Joe's has demonstrated its commitment to its customers' health by saying no to GMOs, artificial colors, and trans fats. It should take the obvious next step and help move the livestock industry in the right direction toward healthy animals raised without drugs."
Earlier this week, Consumer Reports issued the results of its tests of 257 samples of ground turkey, including 27 different brands purchased at a variety of retail stores across the nation. Consumer Reports found that while bacteria were widespread, bacteria from products labeled as "raised without antibiotics" or carrying a similar label were resistant to fewer antibiotics overall than bacteria found on conventional products. Consumer Reports recommends that consumers buy ground turkey that is raised without antibiotics.
"As a company that has taken socially responsible stands on other issues, Trader Joe's could make an important contribution to improving public health by carrying only meat and poultry raised without antibiotics," said Halloran.