Societal shifts are changing the way we do business. In agriculture, we see this through new regulations that impact the way we manage our livestock. Consumer demands pressure ranchers, and while their influence is huge in Washington, D.C., they also vote with their wallets, choosing products that align with their personal views.
Take, for example, Chipotle, the fast-food burrito chain that champions itself as all-natural, though it's not 100%. Or Subway, another fast-food chain that has joined a growing list of restaurants that has promised to phase out the use of gestation crates in their supply chain. Also making this promise to their customers is McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Kraft (Oscar Mayer), Heinz, Campbell Soup, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Sonic, Baja Fresh, Kmart, Compass Group, Aramark, Sysco and Sodexo.
When a Texas mom wrote on her blog about “pink slime,” she had enough signatures to petition that lean finely textured beef be pulled from her children’s school lunch program.
The latest movement is by the Consumers Union (CU), which is pushing for meat from animals that haven’t been administered antibiotics. The campaign is called “Meat Without Drugs,” and pushes Trader Joe’s, a popular grocery store chain, to stop selling meat from animals raised with the use of antibiotics.
According to Supermarket News, “A report on antibiotics and shopper attitudes about their use in livestock was published in June. CU sent secret shoppers to purchase meat and poultry in 126 supermarkets in 23 states, including items from the top 13 chains in the country. Retailers included not only Trader Joe’s but Giant, Hannaford, Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Sam’s Club, Food 4 Less, Food Lion, and Save-A-Lot. The report noted that noted 86% of consumers polled want the choice of purchasing antibiotic-free meat and poultry, and more than 60% said they would be willing to pay up to 5¢/lb. for the option.”
Of course, it's one thing for consumers to say they'd pay more a particular feature in food while being surveyed, but that generally isn't borne out in actual behavior. What's more, the existence of antibiotic-resistant organisms is often erroneously blamed on livestock production, so it’s a knee-jerk reaction for many to want to buy antibiotic-free meat. However, these concerns could be negated with a few facts. By explaining our production practices, we can eliminate some of the consumer anxiety surrounding what we do in U.S. livestock production. With a more informed knowledge of who we are in animal agriculture, they might not fall victim to some of the scare tactics used by activists and political groups.
Here’s what consumers need to know:
- Antibiotics used in beef cattle production must go through a rigorous testing process before being approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA).
- The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Producer Guidelines for “Judicious Use of Antimicrobials” have been in place in 1987.
- Under these guidelines producers avoid using antibiotics that are important to human medicine, use a narrow spectrum of antimicrobials whenever possible, treat the fewest number of animals possible, and use antibiotics to limit or prevent disease, not as a means to improve performance.
- The U.S. government mandates that no beef with antibiotic residues that exceded FDA standards be allowed in the food supply; therefore, all beef sold in the U.S. is safe from antibiotics.
- The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NAMRS) was established in 1996 as a collaborative effort among FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This program provides and early-warning system for detecting any changes in pathogen resistance patterns.
Fellow cattlemen, take note of what consumers are saying about our products. Their concern regarding antibiotic resistance may be valid, but the beef industry shouldn’t be blamed. For instance, consumers' overuse of antibacterial handsoaps and the over-prescription of antibiotics for every cough or sniffle may be causing more problems than the judicial use of safe antibiotics in the beef industry. The challenge, of course, is convincing folks of this truth, in the face of a strong campaign pushing for further restrictions on livestock producers and how they manage the health of their animals.
What do you think about the CU report? Do you think consumers will vote with their wallet and demand antibiotic-free beef production?