This is Your Meat on Drugs. Will Grocery Stores Say NO to Antibiotics?
As an “80’s” baby, I am a product of the “Just Say No” generation- a wonderful era of Drug Abuse Resistance Education used to combat the U.S. War on Drugs. Those red block letters – D.A.R.E. – will forever be imprinted in my mind and I will never forget the PSA, This Is Your Brain on Drugs: A man holds an egg and says, “This is your brain,” picks up a frying pan and adds, “This is drugs.” He then cracks open the egg, fries the contents, and says, “This is your brain on drugs.” Finally, he looks up at the camera and asks, “Any questions?” It’s simple and bleak and accomplishes its objective.
I never questioned the risks and harmful effects of drugs- it wasn’t something I wanted to subject my body to. But what if, unbeknownst to me, equally potentially-damaging drugs were entering my body every day as I sat down to eat? I didn’t think I needed to ask what meat on drugs would look like.
But that’s exactly what the Consumers Union (the advocacy and policy arm of Consumer Reports) does in its recently released report, Meat on Drugs: The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals and What Supermarkets and Consumers Can Do to Stop it. The report examines the cost, labeling, and availability of antibiotic-free meat in grocery stores.
Believe it or not, the medical community is not the major consumer of antibiotics in the United States. It’s the meat and poultry business. A whopping, 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the US are used on animals to stimulate growth or to compensate for the crowded and unsanitary conditions on factory farms. This concerns me primarily for two reasons.
- Food is meant to provide nourishment for our bodies. Why should I fuel my body with something that hasn’t, itself been properly nourished? I did the vegetarianism thing in college when the mere sight and smell of cafeteria mystery meat was enough to cause food poisoning. It pained me further to learn about the land degradation, air pollution, and water depletion caused from large scale animal agriculture. My limited appetite for meat only returned after working for a summer on an organic farm and witnessing a more sustainable model for food production.
- The declining effectiveness of antibiotics is a manifestation of their over-use. The appearance of “superbugs” (antibiotic-resistant bacteria) is now considered a major national public health crisis. Bacteria are getting smarter and are outwitting antibiotics, such that when we get sick, the antibiotics don’t work as well or at all. “Don’t work as well,” translated to 99,000 people dying of hospital-acquired infections in 2002!
Neither Congress nor the FDA has taken any meaningful action to ban the use of antibiotics in agriculture for growth promotion or disease prevention.
So what do we do?
NRDC and Consumers Union is taking it directly to the marketplace. Our new campaign, Meat Without Drugs is targeting grocery stores to sell only meat raised without antibiotics. If supermarkets stop stocking antibiotic-laden meat, livestock producers would be forced to change. And consumers will vote with their dollars. 86 percent of those surveyed have already said antibiotic-free meat should be available in supermarkets and 82 percent said they would buy it, if it were.
Frequent consumption of Whole Foods organic meat is a bit pricey for my budget, but according to the report, consumers don’t have to choose between antibiotic-free and affordable. The group found that antibiotic free pork and poultry farming would, in fact, be less costly than farming with antibiotics. The increased cost to the consumer, on average would be 5 cents per pound for pork and antibiotic-free chicken was found for as little as $1.29 a pound.
Meat Without Drugs is urging Trader Joe’s to go cold turkey with its turkey, pork, beef, and chicken. “TJ's” is known for offering a large selection of antibiotic-free meat and could easily make this transition as it already has extensive control over its suppliers due to the large percentage of Trader Joe’s private label products sold in its stores.
When shopping for meat, look for labels such as USDA Certified Organic, American Grassfed Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, or Certified Humane. We are told early in life, “you are what you eat” but perhaps we should consider a new adage; “you are what you eat eats.”
“... the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.” -Michael Pollan