New Yorkers just looking to dart into the Trader Joe’s at Union Square to grab a mid-morning pick-me-up of Pirate Booty and carrot juice got a surprise today when they were greeted by a gaggle of protesters and a guy in a pig suit and a Hawaiian shirt carrying a sign that proclaimed, “Get me off drugs!”
The protest is part of a broader “Meat Without Drugs!” campaign led by the nonprofit advocacy group Consumers Union to address the growing threat posed by the livestock industry’s widespread use of antibiotics and to ramp up pressure on one of the country’s most socially progressive grocery chains to stop selling meat raised on the drugs.
“The rampant use of antibiotics on livestock is weakening the power of these critical medications to treat infectious diseases in people,” said Jean Holloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “We need meat without drugs to help ensure that the antibiotics we depend on will work when we need them most.”
Indeed, the group cites stats from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that show 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the country are given to otherwise healthy animals in an effort to counter the effects of the crowded, unsanitary conditions in which they are often raised. Such indiscriminate use has given rise to a number of antibiotic-resistant strains of disease, which can be passed along to consumers through the handling of uncooked meat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 100,000 people die each year from infections contracted in hospitals; most infections are caused by drug-resistant bacteria.
"The continued misuse of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in industrial food animal production places enormous selective pressure on bacteria and adds to the alarming increase in antibiotic-resistant pathogens," said Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. "Wholesale purchasers can help protect the health of the public by refusing to source meat and poultry from producers who continue to misuse antibiotics."
Currently, Whole Foods is the only national grocery chain to exclusively carry antibiotic-free meat.
While it would seem the FDA (which appears to recognize there’s a problem here) should be doing something to stop the antibiotic free-for-all on factory farms, the agency has itself been resistant to change, no doubt a result of its often cozy relationship with the agriculture industry.
Even as public-health and environmental groups battle the FDA in court, the Meat Without Drugs campaign has turned its attention to Trader Joe’s, trying to tackle the demand side of the problem. So far the company has refused to discuss the issue with representatives from the campaign.
“Knowing that antibiotics will protect our families when we need them is priceless,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, cofounder and executive director of MomsRising, which is part of the campaign. “Trader Joe’s can be a real leader on this critical public health issue.”