Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, announced its support for legislation Rep. Henry Waxman intends to introduce in Congress that will help the Food and Drug Administration better understand how the overuse of antibiotics in food animals is making these drugs less effective for people.
According to the FDA, an estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in food animals, mostly to make them grow faster and to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions. The routine use of antibiotics in food animals promotes drug resistant superbugs that flourish on farms and spread to communities. But little reliable data is currently available on the amount and type of antibiotics that are used for each category of food animal, which has hampered the FDA's ability to address this issue.
"The daily feeding of antibiotics to healthy farm animals threatens public health by making these critical medications less effective for people," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union. "This bill will help pinpoint the extent to which antibiotics are being overused on the farm so the FDA can take appropriate action to protect public health. We need to limit the excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed if we are going to prevent them from losing their power for people."
Consumers Union has urged Congress, the FDA and some state legislatures to ban the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed. But these efforts have been blocked by the politically powerful pharmaceutical and livestock industries, which profit handsomely from current practices.
Recently, Consumers Union launched the Meat Without Drugs campaign with the Humane Society and Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations to call on grocery stores to sell only meat raised without antibiotics - starting with Trader Joe's.
Rep. Waxman's Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act aims to improve the quality of the information available to the FDA in a number of ways, including:
- Requiring drug manufacturers to disclose to the FDA how their antibiotics are used on the farm by determining which animals the drugs are given to and for what purpose
- Limiting this reporting requirement to food-producing animals most frequently consumed in the U.S. and to only those antibiotics that are important for human medicine
- Requiring feed mills to report on the antibiotics used in the animal feeds they sell, detailing the type and amount of drugs used, as well as their intended use (i.e., growth promotion, disease prevention or disease control or treatment)
Improving the timing and quality of the data publicly released by the FDA
The Meat Without Drugs campaign, which includes more than a dozen consumer, environmental, and animal welfare organizations, delivered a petition to Trader Joe's in late September signed by over half a million consumers who support the campaign.
While most grocery stores carry some no-antibiotic meat and poultry, Whole Foods is the only store that sells these products exclusively, according to a Consumer Reports investigation.
Consumers Union is targeting Trader Joe's because it already sells some chicken and beef raised without antibiotics and has made other recent commitments to sustainable purchasing practices. Over 80 percent of Trader Joe's products are private label, which means it has direct control over its suppliers and can use that leverage to sell only meat without drugs.