New Superbugs in Stock report: grocery stores failing to stop antibiotic overuse in meat supply chains

Media Contacts
Illinois
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG Education Fund


California

North Carolina
Katie Craig

State Director, NCPIRG Education Fund


Colorado

Oregon
Maribeth Guarino

Former High Value Health Care, Advocate, PIRG


National
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

October 13, 2022– NEW YORK—Eight of the 12 largest U.S. supermarket companies received an “F” on a new report card grading corporate policies regarding antibiotic usage in their private label meat and poultry supplies. The Superbugs in Stock report, released Thursday by several members of the Antibiotics Off the Menu coalition, reveals that most top U.S. grocery chains are failing to protect human and animal health by allowing suppliers to misuse antibiotics in their meat and poultry production — which can facilitate the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a global public health threat that has been called a “slow-moving pandemic.”

Cheri Johnson | TPIN

It is evident that the grocery sector has taken little action to address misuse of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supplies. Medicines are being used as a band-aid solution to the high risk of disease in the cruel, crowded, high-stress conditions animals endure on factory farms,” said Annette Manusevich, the farming campaign manager for World Animal Protection and a lead author of the report. “Grocery chains and other food companies have a vital role to play in protecting animals and our health which must include providing more plant-based options to reduce the demand for more animals to enter our food system.” 

An estimated two-thirds of medically important antibiotics in the United States are sold to the meat and poultry industries. Bacteria respond to those drugs’ rampant and continuous use in farmed animals by building resistance at an alarming rate. These bacteria can then end up in our food system via the meat reaching grocery shelves. 

“As rampant overuse of antibiotics leads to the spread of resistant superbugs, more people are getting sick, becoming hospitalized, and dying from common infections — up to 160,000 U.S. deaths each year,” said Steven Roach, FACT’s safe & healthy food program director and a lead author of the report. ”As big meat buyers, grocers need to do more to make sure the meat they sell is not contributing to this serious health threat.” 

Superbugs in Stock ranks the grocers by how well they minimize routine antibiotic usage in otherwise healthy animals. Some chains are doing significantly better than others, though researchers who analyzed their publicly available policies didn’t give any of them grades in the “A” or “B” ranges. Target and Ahold Delhaize (owner of the Food Lion, Giant, and Stop & Shop brands) stand out as leaders in the sector with a “C” and “C- “, respectively, showing the dire need for greater progress overall. 

“It’s disappointing that there is so little leadership among grocery stores to restrict the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry products they sell,” said Laura Rogers, deputy director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University. “If this sector would demand limited use of antibiotics in the products they source this would lead to a significant decrease in the use of live-saving antibiotics in food animal production, which is desperately needed.”

Infectious disease experts have warned for decades about the rise in bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Recently published research estimated that 1.27 million people died globally in 2019 from antibiotic-resistant infections, with historically marginalized groups more susceptible to harmful impacts, in a manner similar to other public health challenges, including COVID-19. 

“Antibiotic resistance is only set to get worse. Grocery store chains should take responsibility for their inaction and use their power to transform the meat marketplace into one that limits antibiotic use,” said Julia Ranney, Center for Food Safety’s Policy Associate.

No company received higher than a “C” in this report due to a lack of monitoring and reporting on antibiotic use even among companies with strong policies in place. This is critical for determining whether suppliers are complying with company policies, reducing routine antibiotic usage and protecting the health of farmed animals. 

“With this report, consumers can know where each grocery store stands in its efforts, or lack thereof, to reduce antibiotic use in the meat supply chain,” said Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Public Health Campaigns Director. “Next time you’re doing your weekly shopping, ask the manager to tell company executives that consumers want more meat raised without overusing our life-saving medicines.”

World Animal Protection 

World Animal Protection is the global voice for animal welfare, with more than 70 years’ experience campaigning for a world where animals live free from cruelty and suffering. 

We have offices in 12 countries and work across 47 countries. We collaborate with local communities, the private sector, civil society, and governments to change animals’ lives for the better. 

Our goal is to change the way the world works to end animal cruelty and suffering for both wild and farmed animals. Through our global food system strategy, we will end factory farming and create a humane and sustainable food system that puts animals first. By transforming the broken systems that fuel exploitation and commodification, we will give wild animals the right to a wildlife. Our work to protect animals will play a vital role in solving the climate emergency, the public health crisis, and the devastation of natural habitats.  

For more information on World Animal Protection, visit: http://www.worldanimalprotection.us/

Food Animal Concerns Trust

Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) expands safe and humanely raised food options by supporting humane farmers and advocating against antibiotic overuse and harmful drugs in farm animals. Our Humane Farming Program invests in family farmers seeking to raise their animals humanely by providing them with grants, scholarships, and webinars. Our Food Safety Program advocates for stronger corporate and federal policies that eliminate the overuse of antibiotics and veterinary drugs known to be harmful to consumers. Together they expand safe and humane practices on farms across the country.

For more information on Food Animal Concerns Trust, visit: https://www.foodanimalconcernstrust.org/

Antibiotic Resistance Action Center

The Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (ARAC) at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health was created to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics by engaging in research, advocacy, and science-based policy. ARAC is focused on finding out-of-the box solutions to antibiotic resistance, one of the greatest public health threats of our time. Visit us at battlesuperbugs.com and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @battlesuperbugs 

U.S PIRG Education Fund

U.S. PIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being. U.S. PIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.

Center for Food Safety 

Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment. Please join our more than one million members across the country at www.centerforfoodsafety.org. Twitter: @CFSTrueFood

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