New report spotlights overuse of antibiotics in beef industry

Legislative Gazette photo by Aidan O’Shea
Chuck Bell, program director for the Advocacy Division of Consumer Reports, discusses a report card grading America’s most popular restaurant chains for the way they administer antibiotics to the beef they raise for their restaurants. At left is Blair Horner, legislative director for NYPIRG, which unveiled the report in the state Capitol on October 31. NYPIRG is supporting a bill that would require stronger reporting of antibiotic use in cattle herds in New York.

A new report by the New York Public Interest Research Group details the beef industry’s overuse of antibiotics in the cattle raised for many leading fast food chains, raising concern for the health of consumers.

Resistance to antibiotics is on the rise worldwide, with more people expected to die from anitobiotic resistant infections than cancer by 2050. The death toll here in the United States is estimated at more than 160,000 deaths per year, making it the fourth leading cause of death in the country.

The beef industry often gives healthy animals antibiotics as compensation for inappropriate diets, unsanitary feedlots, or even to simply expedite growth or pre-treat a non existent disease outbreak. Those antibiotics remain in the animal’s system, making their way into humans by way of beef, plant fertilizers and water pollution.

“The problem here is that they are growing superbugs along with animals,” said Blair Horner, Legislative Director of NYPIRG.

Only two companies, Chiptole and Panera, received a grade of “A” in their policies and practices regarding the beef served in their restaurants. Many companies, such as McDonalds and Subway, have strong policies on the books that they have yet to begin implementing.

The overwhelming majority of America’s top fast food and fast casual chains received a grade of “F.” Among these companies are Burger Kings, Sonic, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Starbucks, just to name a few.

NYPIRG has stressed that in absence of federal action, leadership in the marketplace is absolutely essential. Putting pressure on popular chains to make commitments to source antibiotic free beef is the best way to preserve the life-saving effects of these drugs. Over 90% of chicken sold in the U.S. last year was produced without the use of routine antibiotic considered medically important by the FDA. This was in large part a result of pressure campaigns put on by groups like NYPIRG over the past five years.

New Yorkers should be cautious about the food they consume, especially in regards to beef, an industry that is known for the overprescription of antibiotics. Nearly two thirds of all antibiotics used by humans are also administered to animals.

A bill was introduced in the New York State Senate in May concerning the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, sponsored by Senator Brian Kavanagh, and co-sponsored by Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger.

The bill would restrict the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals by creating a regular reporting system for tracking their administration. Antimicrobials used by humans can now only be administered to these livestock if ordered by a licensed veterinarian who has visited the farm operation within the previous six months. It then requires these veterinarians to report all antibiotics prescribed, provided, or administered.

The bill is also being sponsored in the Assembly by members Jamie Romeo, Anthony D’urso, and Harry Bronson. The bill currently resides in the Senate Higher Education Committee, and the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education.