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Consumer Reports Letter to USDA on Drug Residues in Meat and Poultry

In a late-breaking news release, Consumer Reports has published an open letter to the USDA with concerns about U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) practices regarding the use of unapproved drugs in meat and poultry production. As reported by Consumers Union, Consumer Reports found that even though residues of unapproved drugs are appearing in numerous samples, the USDA has taken no action. In a letter to the USDA, Consumer Reports said the residue program not only is ineffective, but that USDA has failed to even inform the regulatory and enforcement agent for drug residues, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), of this problem.

As I’ve said before, the majority of the drugs in supermarket meats and poultry are antibiotics, used by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as a means of “disease prevention,” as well as to help the animals gain weight more quickly. Besides adding to the growing antibiotic-resistant diseases that we have, the use of these drugs is obviously posing another risk to you, the consumer: If the animals are taking these drugs, you are too.

This is not a small problem. It is major, if for no other reason than in the U.S., according to CDC data, every year at least 2 million Americans acquire drug-resistant infections and 23,000 die as a result. Many others die from conditions that were complicated by antibiotic-resistant infections. Less than 15 years from now, in the year 2030, antibiotic-resistant disease — if left to spiral out of control — is expected to have killed 100 million.

Not only that, 83 percent of supermarket meats are contaminated with fecal bacteria. Chicken is particularly prone to contamination with not just drug-resistant bacteria, but with dangerous pathogens that are linked to lethal food poisoning.

It’s true the FDA needs to enforce the elimination of using these drugs in agricultural settings. But it’s despicable that the USDA is simply ignoring the problem and not even bothering to let the FDA know it’s happening, so the FDA — were it so inclined — could do its job. Only time will tell whether this latest revelation will bring about any major changes, quickly, but there is something you can do, now.

Even if the U.S. government chooses to stay silent on the issue of antibiotics overuse in agriculture, that doesn’t mean you have to go along with it. Increasingly, consumers are demanding sustainably sourced, antibiotic-free meat and other animal products, and by choosing foods from farmers doing it the right way, you can help prompt real change industrywide.

I encourage you to either buy direct from a trusted farm or look for the American Grassfed Association (AGA) logo, a much-needed grass fed standards and certification for American-grown grass fed meat and dairy. The standard allows for greater transparency and conformity and is intended to ensure the humane treatment of animals and meet consumer expectations about grass fed meat, including beef and pork, and dairy, while being feasible for small farmers to achieve.

As antibiotic resistance continues to worsen, and with CAFOs representing ground zero for their overuse, avoiding CAFO animal products is perhaps now more important than ever.