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CIDRAP - Grocery chains could do more to prevent antibiotic overuse in meat, report says

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  • CIDRAP - Grocery chains could do more to prevent antibiotic overuse in meat, report says

    Oct 13, 2022
    Chris Dall

    A new report card on the nation's largest grocery chains shows that most are getting a failing grade on their policies toward eliminating routine antibiotic use in the store-brand meat and poultry they sell.

    The Superbugs in Stock report, produced by a coalition of public health, animal welfare, and food safety groups, finds that, of the nation's top 12 grocery chains, 8 received an "F" grade for their antibiotic policies and meat sourcing practices for meat and poultry products sold under their private labels. The highest grade awarded was a "C."

    Previous reports by the Antibiotics Off The Menu coalition have focused on US restaurant chains and their policies and practices regarding antibiotic use in the beef they serve, with the aim of encouraging the industry, and consumers, to put more pressure on meat suppliers to reduce antibiotic overuse in beef cattle. Consumer pressure has been a significant factor in getting the poultry industry to significantly reduce antibiotic use.

    The authors say grocery stores, where roughly 50% of meat products sold in the United States are bought, are another venue where pressure can be applied.

    "Grocery stores are a primary way that people purchase meat…and they're one of the main ways consumers get information about the meat that they're buying," report contributor Matt Wellington of the US PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund, told CIDRAP News. "They can have a real impact here if they step up and commit to sourcing meat raised without overusing antibiotics."

    Approximately two thirds of the medically important antibiotics—those antibiotics that are also used in human medicine—sold in the United States are used within the livestock sector. But they are often used for more than simply treating sick animals. While US meat producers aren't allowed to use medically important antibiotics to promote animal growth, they are allowed to use them for disease prevention, a practice that critics say contributes to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and covers up for practices that increase the disease risk for animals.

    Lack of policies, reporting, verification

    The report analyzes the antibiotic use policies and practices of grocery chains and grades them on steps taken to reduce antibiotic overuse in their private label meat products ...

    Of the 12, Target received the highest grade, earning a "C" with a time-bound antibiotic use policy that applies to each species of animal products sold under their private label and is linked to broader animal welfare concerns. Ahold Delhaize—the parent company of Stop and Shop, Food Lion, and other grocery chains—received a "C-" for a policy that applies across animal species.

    But Target didn't provide any information on what portion of meat it sells through its private labels meets its antibiotic use commitments ...

    Among the other chains reviewed, Costco and Meijer received a "D," and eight—including Kroger, Aldi, Walmart, and Trader Joe's—received an "F." The report found that these companies, some of which are among the top five in the country based on annual revenue—had no publicly available policy on antibiotic use in meat products. ...