Burger restaurant study misleads consumers about antibiotic use in beef production | TSLN.com

Burger restaurant study misleads consumers about antibiotic use in beef production

Rachel Gabel
for The Fence Post

In a report titled "Chain Reaction IV: Burger Edition," only two hamburger restaurants, California-based Shake Shack and Florida-based BurgerFi, earned A grades based on their public policy of sourcing meat raised without antibiotics.

The report was co-authored by Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumer Reports, Center for Food Safety, FACT: Food Animal Concerns Trust, and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, all of which were called public interest organizations working to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

The restaurants earning A grades both currently serve only beef raised without antibiotics and claims that because the chains are expanding from the small number of current locations, that "their responsible sourcing practices — including serving beef raised without antibiotics — are paying off."

The Wendy's chain received a D- grade on the report because in 2018, the chain began to purchase 15 percent of its beef supply from producers that have "reduced the use of one medically important antibiotic, tylosin, by 20 percent."

Tylosin, approved and most commonly used for the treatment of shipping fever, falls under the Veterinary Feed Directive though the report gives no details about the stage of production in which the drug is being reduced.

While the report insists that the two top rated companies are the only ones demonstrating "real-world progress in sourcing meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics," only seven of the 25 restaurants listed returned the survey that the report is based upon. That means, 18 restaurants chose not to participate in the survey and received a failing grade, a move the report calls "leaving their customers in the dark regarding antibiotic use practices."

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Food Safety Inspection Service Acting Deputy Under Secretary Carmen Rottenberg commented on an earlier article published in Consumer Reports, one of the publications behind this report, reminding producers to continue talking about the safety of the U.S. beef supply. Conversation about the carcass by carcass inspection and the robust food safety program, she said, should fill the space rather than allowing the space to be filled with the scare tactic narrative.

"There are government controls in place to verify that and if there are ever any banned or violative substances found in a product, that product can not go into commerce," she said.

Kathryn Miller, a consumer advocate and meat salesman said the judicious use of antibiotics should be a concern for anyone advocating on behalf of animal welfare, namely beef producers.

"The pendulum swing of the radical anti-antibiotic movement is dangerous to animal health and well-being and limits the proactive measures the industry is responsible in taking to ensure animal comfort and care within agriculture," Miller said. "Consumer miseducation campaigns on behalf of radical anti-agriculture groups are attempting to undermine consumer confidence in food safety by fear mongering."

ANTIBIOTIC USE

The careful monitoring and heavily regulated use of antibiotics and the policies in place, Miller said, promote both animal health and food safety.

The report said burger chains, with McDonald's being the single-largest purchaser of beef in the country, play a crucial role in reducing antibiotic use. The report goes on, calling for policymakers to only allow beef producers to use medically important antibiotics under the guidance of a licensed veterinarian, and to treat animals diagnosed with an illness or to control a verified disease outbreak.

That, Lora Bledsoe, DVM, is exactly the judicious manner in which antibiotics are being utilized by producers.

"That's how antibiotics are utilized and we're following withdrawal periods," Bledsoe said. "The Veterinary Feed Directive is on the books and it's preventing most of those concerns in terms of medically important antibiotic use is now highly regulated."

Injectible antibiotics commonly used in feedyard scenarios, she said, are not typically medically important to humans. Subscribing to the philosophy, she said, that we pump everything full of antibiotics, is untrue and it is inhumane to allow sick animals to suffer without the benefit of necessary medication.

"It's unethical to force producers through a financial incentive into not medicating animals that are sick," she said. "Animals are going to get sick and need to be treated appropriately rather than bribing producers into not treating them."

ANIMAL HEALTH

By law, drugs administered through feed must be used according to the approved labeling. In addition, the extra-label use of approved drugs in animals by or on the lawful order of licensed veterinarians is limited to situations where the health of an animal is threatened or suffering or death may result from failure to treat.

The FDA said they have been working closely with the American Veterinary Medical Association, other veterinary associations, and animal producer organizations, as well as holding listening sessions around the country to hear concerns from both producers and veterinarians.

According to the FDA's website, based on this outreach, they are confident that animal producers and veterinarians understand the role that they play in ensuring that these important drugs are used appropriately and judiciously.

By law, drugs administered through feed must be used according to the approved labeling. In addition, the extra-label use of approved drugs in animals by or on the lawful order of licensed veterinarians is limited to situations where the health of an animal is threatened or suffering or death may result from failure to treat.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association released this statement regarding antibiotic use:

"Cattlemen, and the entire livestock community, are working together to continuously improve the way antibiotics are used in animals, because they care about how their practices impact cattle health as well as antibiotic safety and efficacy. The beef industry promotes the judicious use of antibiotics to keep potential risk of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria extremely low. In addition, the beef community has invested significantly in research and education programs like Beef Quality Assurance to maintain high standards of animal care and health."

Read the report at https://consumersunion.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/ChainReaction4_Report_FINAL.pdf.