October 12, 2022 — Three-quarters of the largest grocery chains in the United States are failing to limit the use of antibiotics in their private label fresh meat, contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance.
That’s according to a new report, “Superbugs in Stock,” produced by members of a coalition of public health, animal welfare and consumer groups known as Antibiotics Off the Menu. Of the nation’s major food retailers, Target fared the best, but even though it only received a C grade.
About half of the fresh meat sold in this country is purchased from stores.
“This means the grocery industry has a potentially major impact on how antibiotics are used in meat production,” says Matthew Wellington, director of public health campaigns at coalition member US PIRG. “This report shows an urgent need for more progress in the grocery sector.”
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For 6 years, the coalition has focused on restaurants, with an annual report on the practices of major fast and casual restaurant chains. Following these reports, several chains announced changes to their policies, but not all followed suit.
“We’ve seen progress with restaurant chains, so we wanted to look at the other place where people get most of their food,” says Steven Roach of the Food Animal Concerns Trust, lead author of the report. “And after the pandemic, where there had been a shift from people eating out to eating at home, we thought it was time to look at grocery chains.”
Roach and his co-authors gathered information about supermarket chains’ policies on antibiotic use in private label chicken, turkey, pork, and beef through a survey as well as sites company websites and published documents. They awarded points for various scoring criteria – things like having a meaningful and transparent public policy related to animal welfare, enforcement of that policy, and use of third-party verification.
Their conclusions do not really inspire confidence. Of the dozen major grocery retailers in the United States, eight received an F rating, with 10 points or less out of a possible 100. This group includes Kroger, Walmart and Albertsons, three of the five highest-earning grocers in the United States. of failing companies sell private label meat labeled “raised without antibiotics,” none have strong policies to cover their entire line of private label fresh meat.