America’s Second-Largest Retail Chain Is Cutting Antibiotics From Its Meat

Costco announced that it will phase out drugs that are important to human medicine from its supply chain.

(Photo: A. Currell/Flickr)

Mar 6, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

When it comes to the food industry, it would appear that good news comes in twos.

In February, Nestlé and Hershey announced in quick succession that they would be moving away from artificial flavors and ingredients in their candies. Now, just days after McDonald’s said it would phase antibiotics that are vital to human medicine out of its poultry supply chain, Costco announced Thursday that it plans to do the same—for chicken and other meats too.

“I mean, you’ve got to protect human health beyond everything, and so we think eliminating shared-use antibiotics is the right way to go,” Craig Wilson, the retailer’s vice-president of food safety, told Reuters.

The member-only discount chain was the second-largest retailer in the country in 2014, selling 80 million rotisserie chickens a year. That kind of market share makes Costco similar to McDonald’s—the country’s leading fast-food chain—in terms of its influence on the market. Even if Costco is just one supermarket, McDonald’s just one fast-food chain, it could be that their buying power could be significant enough to make their standards the livestock industry’s standards by default.

If that ends up being the case—which some experts working in the field, including Sasha Stashwick, a senior advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program, believe—retailers will have succeeded where the Food and Drug Administration has failed. Despite antibiotic resistant bacteria, which develops in concentrated animal feeding operations, costing the U.S. health care system $20 billion a year, the agency has only responded with voluntary regulations.

Wilson told Reuters that Costco is working with both suppliers and “regulatory agencies” to make the shift away from antibiotics. However, the chain did not promise to complete the change within a certain time frame.

Even if you wouldn’t buy a Costco rotisserie chicken once the company does phase out the drugs, it helps make it that much more likely that antibiotics will continue to work in the future.