Poll Shows Consumers Think Retailer Should Stop Selling Meat from Antibiotic-fed Animals30 July 2013
US - A new poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center shows that 69 per cent of shoppers who bought meat at Trader Joe's think the grocer should stop selling meat and poultry from animals routinely fed antibiotics, a practice that most experts agree threatens public health by promoting the spread of drug resistant superbugs.
The poll shows that the vast majority of Trader Joe's customers believe the grocer is a company that tries to avoid products that may harm public health or the environment. However, most Trader Joe's customers surveyed were unaware that the company sells meat raised on antibiotics and were concerned when informed that it does.
"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, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. "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."
Consumers Union is opposed to the routine feeding of antibiotics to healthy livestock and has supported legislation to prohibit antibiotic use except when animals are sick. Last year, Consumers Union launched its Meat without Drugs campaign, to try to convince grocery stores -- starting with Trader Joe's – to sell only meat raised without antibiotics. The campaign was launched after decades spent trying to get the FDA to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock resulted in little action by the agency.
Over 650,000 consumers have signed petitions, postcards, and flyers and nearly 5,000 have called the company's customer service line in support of ending the sale of meat raised on antibiotics. So far, Trader Joe's has been unwilling to change its practices or even meet with Consumers Union to discuss the issue.
In late May / early June of 2013, the Consumer Reports National Research Center polled 1,120 California residents who bought meat and/or poultry at Trader Joe's or other supermarkets to explore their attitudes about buying and consuming meat raised with and without antibiotics, and about Trader Joe's policies in this area.
Respondents were informed that antibiotics are being used to promote growth in livestock and to help animals tolerate crowded living conditions on the farm. Concern about meat raised on antibiotics was high among all shoppers polled, but Trader Joe's meat shoppers consistently showed more concern than those who purchased meat at other stores. Among the key findings of the poll:
- Only 23 per cent of Trader Joe's meat shoppers were aware that the store sells meat raised on antibiotics but 72 per cent were concerned about this policy.
- 87 per cent 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 per cent of other store shoppers.
- 69 per cent of Trader Joe's shoppers agreed that supermarkets selling meat raised with antibiotics were doing a disservice to their customers, compared to 56 per cent of other store shoppers.
- 78 per cent of Trader Joe's shoppers agreed that they would prefer to shop at a supermarket that only sells no-antibiotic meat, compared to 64 per cent of other store shoppers.
- Only 30 per cent of Trader Joe's shoppers agreed that price is more important than antibiotic use in their meat consumption, and about the same number (34 per cent) of other store shoppers felt this way.
The effort to get Trader Joe's to stop selling meat raised on antibiotics comes at a time when other food companies are making this move and touting it in their advertisements. Whole Foods only sells meat and poultry raised without antibiotics and recently emphasized that fact in their "Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Meat On Drugs" advertising campaign. Similarly, Panera Bread has been highlighting that it only uses "no antibiotics" chicken in its dishes in television ads. Chipotle also sells pork, chicken, and beef that is raised without antibiotics.
Consumers Union is targeting Trader Joe's because eighty per cent of its products are private label, which means it has more control over its suppliers and can use that leverage to increase supply and keep prices competitive. A Consumer Reports investigation found that Trader Joe's already sells some beef and much of its chicken raised without antibiotics (although no pork). In fact, Trader Joe's offers some of the lowest priced chicken produced without antibiotics available.
Consumers Union research has also determined that although Trader Joe's meat suppliers are cloaked in secrecy, it purchased products from some suppliers who should be able to make increased supplies on meat raised without antibiotics available to the store. For example, based on USDA establishment codes that appear on meat packages, Consumers Union found that one major meat supplier, Ruprecht, Inc., already supplies both types of products to Trader Joe's. Much of the "no antibiotics" chicken sold at Trader Joe's comes from Perdue, and BC Natural, a Perdue-owned company. Presumably supplies to Trader Joe's could be increased.
In recent years, the grocer has made a commitment to other sustainable purchasing practices, such as only carrying eggs from cage-free hens and sourcing its private label products with non-genetically modified ingredients.
"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."
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