In an open letter to Trader Joe's CEO, 2,000 medical professionals asked the supermarket chain to "be a proactive leader in the fight to preserve our antibiotics and end the sale of meat from livestock producers that routinely and inappropriately administer these drugs to their animals." It was delivered to the company's headquarters as a means to get Trader Joe's to show leadership and a commitment to public health.
Under pressure from the Consumers Union, the national consumer-advocacy group is targeting Trader Joe's since the large supermarket chain is known to put an emphasis on only carrying private-label products, which in turn "means it has more control over its suppliers and can use that leverage to increase supply and keep prices competitive," a spokesperson from the group said.
Trader Joe's responded to the the consumer group's campaign by saying that while some of its meat is antibiotic-free, it is working to form relationships with additional sources to offer consumers with a greater range of antibiotic-free products.
While the "routine use of antibiotics on healthy livestock is a public-health threat" and causing antibiotics to be less effective in combating diseases, the Consumers Union is taking a stand and asking all retailers to stop selling meat from animals who are raised on antibiotics.
The open letter from the Consumers Union to Trader Joe's reads:
October 23, 2014
Mr. Dan Bane
800 Shamrock Avenue
Monrovia, CA 91016
Dear Mr. Bane,
As representatives of the medical community, we write with an urgent request for Trader Joe’s to be a proactive leader in the fight to preserve our antibiotics, and end the sale of meat from livestock producers that routinely and inappropriately administer these drugs to their animals.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the FDA recognized that the overuse of medically-important antibiotics in livestock threatens human health. Producers of livestock and poultry use drugs like penicillin and tetracycline to promote growth rates and to prevent infections in the often crowded and unsanitary conditions found on factory farms. Antibiotics should never be used to prevent disease or make animals grow faster. While public health campaigns have helped to curb the use of antibiotics in humans, antibiotic use in animals raised for meat and poultry is still increasing.
The dangers associated with the overuse of antibiotics were recently detailed in a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics and an estimated 23,000 die each year as a direct result of these infections. The CDC points out that antibiotic resistance is getting worse because of overprescribing by the medical community and overuse by the livestock industry, which uses the vast majority of antibiotics sold in this country. In animals as with humans, “these drugs should only be used to treat infection,” says the report, which warns of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that now commonly contaminate our food.
These were not empty warnings, as evidenced by recent instances of antibiotic-resistant infections associated with meat and poultry. The recent outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg linked to Foster Farms chicken sickened over 630 people, with many more thousands likely sickened. In 2011, a similar outbreak of the same bacteria was traced to a Cargill plant in Springdale, Arkansas that sickened 136 people and resulted in one death.
A recent Consumer Reports test of ground turkey found that the bacteria on products from birds that had not been given antibiotics had lower rates of antibiotic resistance than products from conventional birds, which are typically administered antibiotics. This shows that raising food animals without antibiotics can have a big impact on the resistance problem, and it is urgent that livestock producers begin to move in this direction.
Clearly it will take more than a commitment from Trader Joe’s to turn the tide on the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. But we are all stakeholders in the fight to preserve the effectiveness of these precious drugs. As medical professionals, we can do our part – but we can’t do it alone. Meat producers must also end their misuse and overuse of these drugs in animals. Supermarket chains like Trader Joe’s should do their part by guiding the industry towards responsible use by demanding meat from animals that were raised without the routine use of antibiotics.
Please show your leadership and a commitment to public health by ending the sale of meat raised on antibiotics in your stores nationwide.
[2000 medical professionals]
The open letter was originally published on Consumer's Union.