FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 15, 2013
Contact: Sara Sciammacco, (202) 667-6982, [email protected]
New EWG analysis shows most store-bought meat in 2011 contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria
Washington D.C. -- The latest round of tests by federal scientists, quietly published in February has documented startlingly high percentages of supermarket meat containing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a new Environmental Working Group analysis.
EWG’s analysis of data buried in the federal government’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System has found that store-bought meat tested in 2011 contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81 percent of raw ground turkey, 69 percent of raw pork chops, 55 percent of raw ground beef and 39 percent of raw chicken parts.
“Consumers should be very concerned that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now common in the meat aisles of most American supermarkets,” said EWG nutritionist Dawn Undurraga, the report’s principal author. “These organisms can cause foodborne illnesses and other infections. Worse, they spread antibiotic-resistance, which threatens to bring on a post-antibiotic era where important medicines critical to treating people could become ineffective.”
EWG researchers found that 53 percent of raw chicken samples were tainted with an antibiotic-resistant form of Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli, a microbe that normally inhabits feces and can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections and pneumonia. The extent of antibiotic-resistant E. coli on chicken is alarming because bacteria readily share antibiotic-resistance genes.
As well, EWG found that antibiotic resistance in salmonella is growing fast: of all salmonella microbes found on raw chicken sampled in 2011, 74 percent were antibiotic-resistant, compared to less than 50 percent in 2002.
A significant contributor to the looming superbug crisis is the unnecessary antibiotic usage by factory farms that produce most of the 8.9 billion animals raised for food in the U.S. every year. Industrial livestock producers routinely give healthy animals antibiotics to get them to slaughter faster or prevent infection in crowded, stressful and often unsanitary living conditions.
Pharmaceutical makers have powerful financial incentives to encourage abuse of antibiotics in livestock operations. In 2011, they sold nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics for use on domestic food-producing animals, up 22 percent over 2005 sales by weight, according to reports complied by the FDA and the Animal Health Institute, an industry group. Today, pharmaceuticals sold for use on food-producing animals amount to nearly 80 percent of the American antibiotics market.
“Slowing the spread of antibiotic resistance will require concerted efforts, not only by the FDA and lawmakers, but by pharmaceutical companies, doctors, veterinarians, livestock producers and big agribusinesses,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research. “It’s time for big agribusiness to exercise the same restraint shown by good doctors and patients: use antibiotics only by prescription for treatment or control of disease.”
The federal Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to address antibiotic abuse in livestock operations consist of only voluntary guidance documents – not regulations that carry the force of law. EWG takes the position that the FDA must take more aggressive steps to keep antibiotic-resistant bacteria from proliferating in the nation’s meat supply. Livestock producers must not squander the effectiveness of vital medicines.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), aimed at curbing overuse of antibiotics on farms.
“Consumers need protections on the food they eat now,” said Craig Cox, EWG’s vice president of natural resources and agriculture. “And they need a new farm bill that will help producers reduce their use of antibiotics and level the playing field for farmers and ranchers committed to more sustainable ways to raise livestock."
Consumers can reduce their exposure to superbugs by eating less factory-farm meat, buying meat raised without antibiotics, and following EWG’s downloadable Tips to Avoiding Superbugs in Meat. They can also order a wallet card for a small donation and view a detailed label decoder.
This project was partially funded by an educational grant from Applegate
For Immediate Release, Monday, July 18, 2011
Contact: Sara Sciammacco; [email protected]
EWG Meat Eater’s Guide Spotlights Beef’s Outsize Carbon Footprint
Report Finds Wide Variation in Environmental, Health Impacts of Foods
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Environmental Working Group today released its groundbreaking Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, a powerful, multi-featured tool that allows both consumers and experts to understand easily how food choices affect both their environmental footprint and their health.
Taking into account every stage of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal, the guide documents in unprecedented detail how consumers who eat less meat and cheese can significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and health risks linked to their dietary choices. Previous studies have focused mostly on emissions from the food production phase only.
The calculations reveal that if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year, the effect on emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
The research also highlights the surprisingly large environmental impact of meat that goes into the trash, which accounts for more than 20 percent of all meat-associated emissions.
“By eating and wasting less meat, consumers can help limit the environmental damage caused by the huge amounts of fertilizer, fuel, water, and pesticides, not to mention the toxic manure and wastewater, that goes along with producing meat,” said Kari Hamerschlag, EWG senior analyst and author of the report. “Choosing healthier, pasture-raised meats can also help improve people’s health and reduce the environmental damage associated with meat consumption.”
Mario Batali, chef, restaurateur, award-winning author, and television personality, said, “The fact is, most people in the U.S. eat way more meat than is good for them or the planet, but even knowing this, the chances are little that we are all going to become vegetarians, much less vegan. Asking everyone to go vegetarian or vegan is not a realistic or attainable goal, but we can focus on a more plant-based diet and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably. This is why I am such a big believer in the Meatless Monday Movement and the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health.”
The study points to abundant research showing how eating large quantities of beef and processed meats increases exposure to toxins and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
EWG teamed up with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis and consulting firm, to calculate complete lifecycle assessments of the “cradle-to-grave” carbon footprint of 20 types of conventionally raised (not organic or grass-fed) meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins, counting emissions generated both before and after the food leaves the farm. These assessments included every step of the food cycle, from the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow animal feed through to the grazing, processing, transportation, cooking and finally, disposal of unused food.
Other key findings of the report:
- Beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu.
- Cheese has the third-highest emissions. Less dense cheese (such as cottage) results in fewer greenhouse gases since it takes less milk to produce it.
- 90 percent of beef’s emissions, 69 percent of pork’s, 72 percent of salmon’s and 68 percent of tuna’s are generated in the production phase. Just half of chicken’s emissions are generated during production.
“The report also points out that making significant cuts in emissions will not come solely from individual action, but also citizen action,” said Ken Cook, EWG’s President. “Consumers need to convince Washington to enact comprehensive policies that put the nation on a path to green energy. Reducing meat production’s negative impact on soil, air and water quality will also require better policies and regulatory enforcement as well as curbing meat consumption.”
EWG recommends that consumers buy right-size portions to reduce waste, avoid eating meat and cheese at least one day a week and choose “greener” options such as grass-fed, organic and pasture-raised animal and dairy products that are produced in a more ethical manner and without antibiotics or hormones.
To make the report and findings as widely useful as possible, EWG’s Meat Eater’s Guide website includes a variety of consumer-friendly features, including an interactive graphic, an available printed wallet card and brochure that summarize the results, consumer tips, a quiz and a guide to decoding the maze of labels on meat other food products.