Full-Page Ads Thank Trader Joe’s For Giving Consumers The Choice To Eat Drugged-Up Meat

Image courtesy of One of the ads run by a local farmer in The Idaho Statesman. Click to see full-size.

One of the ads run by a local farmer in The Idaho Statesman. Click to see full-size.

One of the ads run by a local farmer in The Idaho Statesman. Click image to see full size.

Freedom of choice is a pretty awesome thing. But for quite some time, consumers have had very little choice when it comes to buying beef, chicken, or pork that wasn’t fed a massive amount of medically unnecessary antibiotics. That’s one of the reasons why our cohorts at Consumers Union have been pushing supermarket chain Trader Joe’s to stop selling meat from these animals — so consumers could have an affordable, convenient way to get meat that wasn’t pumped full of penicillin. But according to a series of full-page newspaper ads, consumers apparently want hamburgers that are contributing to the spread of drug-resistant infections.

Presumably in response to the Consumers Union ad seen below calling on people to urge Trader Joe’s to stop selling meat from animals fed unnecessary antibiotics, a farmer in Idaho has run ads of his own welcoming Trader Joe’s to the state and thanking the store for giving the people of Idaho access to meat from drugged-up animals.

Here is the text of the ad, which we pieced together above from a trio of scans sent to us:

Welcome To Idaho, Trader Joe’s!

Thank you for coming to Idaho! Trader Joe’s despite being heavily pressured by San Francisco, Washington D.C., and New York-based Consumers Union, has continued to give Idahoans choices in their beef purchases.

Some Boise food stores have chosen to stock only antibiotic-free products at prices up to 100% higher than conventional beef. Conventional beef is FDA-compliant and USDA-inspected. There has been no proven link between the use of antibiotics in beef cattle and antibiotic failure in humans.

Idahoans love Idaho, and part of the reason we chose to live in this great state is having freedom of choice – some Idahoans even choose tofu. We say “Consumer Union, take your political activist propaganda elsewhere! Idahoans don’t want it.” In other words, BUTT OUT Consumers Union, policy and action from CONSUMER REPORTS.

Here are some things this ad gets incorrect:
First off, the mass use of antibiotics for the sole purpose of encouraging muscle tissue growth only became “conventional” in recent decades. To use that term to describe a practice that many consumers are only becoming aware of now (partly because the FDA failed to live up to its obligation to fully investigate the matter for 35 years) is misleading. Human beings and livestock farmers survived for millennia without animals that were filled to the brim with drugs they didn’t need.

Second, the ad cites FDA compliance and USDA inspection as indicators that these foods pose no threat to the public health. As we just mentioned, the FDA ignored this issue for three decades, and only did anything in earnest under the threat of legal action. Even though their most recent guidance on antibiotics in farm animals is incredibly weak, it still leaves no doubt that animals should not receive medically unnecessary drugs.

Which brings us to the most egregious error of the ad — and one that comes straight from talking points bulletins of the large pharmaceutical and meat producers — that “There has been no proven link between the use of antibiotics in beef cattle and antibiotic failure in humans.”

In fact, there are numerous studies from medical and scientific researchers demonstrating the impact of unnecessary antibiotic use on farm animals.

A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 2 million Americans get sick, and 23,000 of them die, every year from drug-resistant pathogens. The report, which clearly states that “simply using antibiotics creates resistance” also discusses the link between drugs in animal feed and human illnesses:

“Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe. Stopping even some of the inappropriate and unnecessary use of antibiotics in people and animals would help greatly in slowing down the spread of resistant bacteria.”

The original ad from Consumers Union that called for people to ask Trader Joe's to stop selling meat from animal raised on antibiotics. Click image to see full size.

The original ad from Consumers Union that called for people to ask Trader Joe’s to stop selling meat from animal raised on antibiotics. Click image to see full size.

And the CDC study is not alone.

In 2001, the World Health Organization Global Strategy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance recommended that governments “terminate or rapidly phase out the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion if they are also used for treatment of humans.”

That same year, the American Medical Association adopted Resolution 508, Antimicrobial Use and Resistance, which states, in part, “AMA is opposed to the use of antimicrobials at non-therapeutic levels in agriculture, or as pesticides or growth promoters, and urges that non-therapeutic use in animals of antimicrobials (that are used in humans) should be terminated or phased out.”

A 2007 study [PDF] from researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine and School of Public Health found that poultry workers were more than five times more likely to carry multi-drug resistant E. coli bacteria compared to other community members.

Even the FDA, which has been reluctant to flex its regulatory muscle in a way that would anger big pharma and big farmer, stated in 2012 that “Misuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs creates selective evolutionary pressure that enables antimicrobial resistant bacteria to increase in numbers more rapidly than antimicrobial susceptible bacteria and thus increases the opportunity for individuals to become infected by resistant bacteria.”

We agree with the farmer’s assertion that prices are currently too high in some stores for antibiotic-free meat, what we don’t agree with is this notion that consumers actually want meat from drugged animals for any reason other than that it’s cheaper. If given the choice between two similarly priced products, most shoppers will choose the meat that won’t further the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

That’s why a chain like Trader Joe’s can help by getting rid of such meat products. There are more than 400 TJ’s stores in the U.S., giving the company significant buying power. If it were to demand from its suppliers that they only provide antibiotic-free meats, it could then make those products available to consumers at a reasonable price.

Additionally, the increased demand from Trader Joe’s would mean larger scale production of drug-free meats, driving down the wholesale cost of these products for other supermarkets.

Trader Joe’s has the opportunity to be a disruptive force in the market that would help to bring antibiotic-free meat to more consumers at a better price. That’s real choice; not choosing between drugged-up meat and paying a king’s ransom for antibiotic-free beef and poultry.

In response to the ads run in the Statesman, the folks at Consumers Union have sent a letter to editors of the paper, stating that contrary to the ad’s assertion, “meat and poultry raised without antibiotics doesn’t have to be expensive,” citing a recent Consumer Reports study which found that some prices on antibiotic-free meats were actually lower than the national average for meat raised with antibiotics.

“Trader Joe’s claims to be a leader when it comes to offering customers a variety of choices,” continues the letter. “But the clear choice when it comes to protecting public health is to stop selling meat from animals that are routinely fed antibiotics even though they aren’t sick. We can’t afford to waste these critical medications on healthy livestock.”

[NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated that USDA inspectors do not check for antibiotic residue. That is incorrect, as the agency does monitor for antibiotic residues in meat and poultry. We apologize for the error.]

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