Trader Joe’s Customers: We Don’t Want Drugs In Our Meat

While many grocery store chains carry meat from animals that have been fed unnecessary antibiotics purely for the purpose of encouraging growth, the results of a new survey show that a large majority of all supermarket shoppers — but especially Trader Joe’s customers — would rather that their favorite food store stop carrying the drugged-up beef, pork, and poultry.

Numerous studies have shown that while antibiotics put in animal feed may make for plumper animals, this non-medical use of these drugs has resulted in pathogens adapting into antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” which poses a huge public health problem for everyone.

Meanwhile, recent research indicates that meat products made from antibiotic-free animals is less likely to harbor any of these drug-resistant bacteria that can wreak havoc on the human body.

And so our kin over at the Consumer Reports National Center surveyed Trader Joe’s customers who had purchased meat products at the chain and found the following:

* Only 23% of Trader Joe’s meat shoppers were aware that the store sells meat raised on antibiotics but 72% were concerned about this policy.

* 87% of Trader Joe’s shoppers agreed that supermarkets and meat suppliers should work together to avoid giving food animals antibiotics unless they are sick, compared to 79% of other store shoppers.

* 69% of Trader Joe’s shoppers agreed that supermarkets selling meat raised with antibiotics were doing a disservice to their customers, compared to 56% of other store shoppers.

* 78% of Trader Joe’s shoppers agreed that they would prefer to shop at a supermarket that only sells no-antibiotic meat, compared to 64% of other store shoppers.

* Only 30% of Trader Joe’s shoppers agreed that price is more important than antibiotic use in their meat consumption, and about the same number (34%) of other store shoppers felt this way.

“Trader Joe’s is clearly not living up to its customers’ expectations when it comes to antibiotics and meat,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union. “Trader Joe’s customers want the company to take a stand on this critical public health issue by refusing to sell meat from animals routinely fed antibiotics.”

So far, more than 650,000 consumers have signed petitions, postcards, and flyers and nearly 5,000 people have called the Trader Joe’s customer service line in support of ending the sale of meat raised on antibiotics. Even in the face of growing public opposition to the practice, Trader Joe’s has remained unwilling to change its practices or even meet with Consumers Union to discuss the issue.

What makes TJ’s stubborn stance on this issue so confounding is that the company is no stranger to sustainable purchasing practices, such as only carrying eggs from cage-free hens and sourcing its private label products with non-genetically modified ingredients. But, for now, on the drugged-up meat issue, it’s keeping mum.

At the same time, employees at Trader Joe’s don’t even seem to know whether or not their meat products are antibiotic-free or not, leading to even more customer confusion.

Unlike Trader Joe’s, the Whole Foods supermarket chain only sells meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. Restaurant chains like Panera and Chipotle use meat products that are raised without the unwarranted use of these drugs.

In March, two pieces of legislation were introduced in the House and Senate that would curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Alas, the pharmaceutical and agricultural lobbyists have once again demonstrated their authority, as both bills appear to be dead in the water. And so it’s up to consumers to urge private businesses to make this much-needed change.

Trader Joe’s already buys a number of its meat products from suppliers who offer antibiotic-free selections — some of which TJ’s actually purchases. The company could tell these same suppliers that it wants to phase out meat from drug-fed animals, giving suppliers time to ramp up production to meet the increased demand.

This sort of move by a company the size of Trader Joe’s could send a signal to the entire industry that it’s not impossible to make this change to products that aren’t putting our families at risk for a whole new generation of superbugs.

“Public health experts agree that we must curb the overuse of antibiotics in livestock to preserve their effectiveness to treat disease,” said Halloran. “We can’t afford to continue wasting vital medications by routinely feeding them to healthy animals. Trader Joe’s should use its leverage with suppliers to live up to its customers’ expectations and stop selling meat raised on antibiotics.”

For more on how you can tell Trader Joe’s you don’t want antibiotics in your meat, check out Consumers Union’s NotInMyFood.org.