July 1, 2010
With the debut of the Meat Without Drugs campaign and the popularity of Meatless Monday, it is nice to know there are other organizations alert to the public health threat of antibiotic misuse in animal feed. Adding antibiotics to animal feed became popular in food animal production in the 1950s after scientists discovered antibiotics promote animal growth. Yet over time, use of antibiotics for purposes other than treating disease has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Governmental agencies like the Food and Drug Administration have been dragging their feet in response to this pressing public health concern. Fortunately, there are many ways for individuals and organizations to take action and reduce the public health and environmental impacts of our diets.
“Meat without Drugs,” co-sponsored by Consumers Union and FixFood, focuses its efforts on pressuring food distributors to stop selling meat raised with antibiotics. In a concise, accurate, and artful video directed by Robert Kenner (director of Food, Inc.) in consultation with CLF, the Meat without Drugs campaign highlights how industrial farming practices facilitate the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the threats that these bacteria pose to public health. Their first campaign is calling on Trader Joe’s, the grocery chain that has already demonstrated some commitment to sustainability by refusing to sell products made from GMOs, to stop selling meat raised with antibiotics. The campaign has already garnered nearly 50,000 signatures. Taking these products off the market in larger chain grocery stores is one way to benefit public health in the long run. Kudos to Meat Without Drugs for their important work.
Individual consumers also have a great deal of power to get these products off the shelves by changing purchasing and consumption behaviors. One simple way to do this is to eat less meat. Easier said than done? Participating in the Meatless Monday campaign, which encourages people to refrain from eating meat one day a week, is a great place to start. Replacing meat with healthier plant-based alternatives one day a week reduces one’s weekly meat intake by approximately 15 percent, which not only helps improve individual health, but also the health of the environment.
Another way to reduce the consumption of meat raised with antibiotics is to buy your meat at a farmers’ market or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs (assuming that your local farmer doesn’t use medicated feed). In the CLF’s meat-CSA arrangement, customers receive a healthy portion of sustainably-raised chicken and/or beef each month from June to November. Not only does buying a share reduce the overall environmental impact of your diet, but it also supports local farmers and tastes better.
There are many ways that we, as consumers, can demand meat that is raised sustainably, in reasonable portions. The next time you invite your friends over for a barbecue this summer, consider buying your hamburgers and hot dogs from animals that were not raised with antibiotics except to treat disease. (And if it’s a Monday, just skip the meat altogether!)