Studies challenge “raised without antibiotics” claims; named whole foods

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It doesn’t look like there will be a recall of mislabeled beef, but new studies mean there’s more uncertainty at the meat counter. The study results, published in Science on April 7, mean that a label claiming meat products are “raised without antibiotics” or RWA may not mean much either.

Farm Action and the American Grassfed Association were troubled enough to demand that the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recall beef that tested positive for antibiotics in the studies. In addition, there was confusion about a third organization’s previous study involving antibiotic residues. Farm Acton and the American Grassfed Association said it was targeting Whole Foods, but the Austin-based grocery chain said no specific retailers were identified.

“We have thoroughly reviewed the information made available to us and have no reason to believe that the cattle tested in this study ended up in products in our stores,” a Whole Foods Market spokesperson told the publication The Dovers. “We take compliance very seriously and never hesitate to act if a supplier fails to meet our rigorous quality standards.”

“FSIS should quickly request a recall of the meat in question. If Whole Foods refuses to recall its mislabeled meat, FSIS should use its legal authority to detain and seize it,” Farm Action and the American Grassfed Association said in a letter to the agency.

RWA meat products are often certified by the Global Animal Partnership or GAP, but testing is not required.

The scientific study was carried out by researchers at George Washington University, who tested urine samples from cattle destined for a “raised without antibiotics” (RWA) market and found that approximately 15% of cattle were positive for antibiotics.

University researchers say their findings suggest that current “raised without antibiotics” labels lack integrity.

Andrew de Coriolis, Executive Director of Farm Forward, agrees with these insights on several points:

  • Drugs in meat can ultimately harm people.
  • Many of the drugs found by FoodID are medically important antibiotics, primarily tetracycline, a drug used to treat infections like pneumonia and urinary tract infections in humans.
  • The routine use of drugs in factory farms contributes to the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections. Another recent study suggests that superbugs killed 1.3 million people in 2019 alone.
  • The Science article shows systemic misuse of antibiotics in GAP-certified meat. This is despite consumer perceptions that meat sold by Whole Foods comes from animals raised without medication on pasture. Most of the meat sold by Whole Foods comes from animals raised on factory farms.
  • The human washing of factory-farmed meat by GAP and Whole Foods costs buyers up to 20% more.

In a statement, Farm Forward also said, “The new study sampled more than 10% of all meat raised without antibiotics (RWA) supply in the United States during the period in which the study was conducted. A significant percentage of all RWA meat in the United States turned out to be dirty – this was not an isolated incident.

  • According to the study, 5% came from batches where aAll animals tested were positive, indicating that the drugs were administered to the entire herd.
  • GAP herds fared far worse: 22% of GAP raised without antibiotics in the beef supply chain came from lots where all animals in the sample were positive, and an additional 4% came from lots where one animal was positive. In other words, the study suggests that 1 in 5 GAP-certified animals were treated with medically important antibiotics.

“American Grassfed trained on the issue of truth in labeling,” said Carrie Balkcom, executive director of the American Grassfed Association. “We are reaching out to FSIS now in pursuit of real accountability and oversight.”

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