AUSTIN, Texas (June 1, 2004) Despite high visibility of recent food safety scares and issues in the news, including the discovery of mad cow disease, less than half (45 percent) of Americans are aware the fresh meat and poultry they often consume could be raised with antibiotics in its feed, according to a nationwide trendtracker survey released today by Whole Foods Market.
Regardless of age, education, income level, and region, more than half (52.3 percent) of those surveyed are concerned about the presence of antibiotics in meat production when shopping for fresh beef and poultry. This concern comes closely after top basic concerns such as price, flavor, and food safety but is significantly lower than in 2003, when almost three-quarters (74.3 percent) expressed concern over antibiotics.
This survey is released at a time when the use of antibiotics in animals and the resulting antibiotic resistance in humans is attracting attention in Congress. A new report by the United States Government Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, concludes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “has determined that antibiotic resistance in humans resulting from the use of antibiotics in animals is an unacceptable risk to the public health.” The report was requested by senators Ted Kennedy (Mass.), Senator Olympia Snowe (Maine), and Tom Harkin (Iowa). Kennedy and Snowe cosponsor a bill to phase out the routine use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry that are not sick.
Only 28 percent of those surveyed – one percentage point higher than in 2003 – are aware of the scientific dialogue documenting problems caused by overuse of antibiotics in animals raised for food and suggesting that people who eat meat raised on feed with antibiotics can develop resistance to antibioticsthat is, antibiotics taken by humans for therapeutic reasons may not be effective. Once they learn of the reports showing a connection between the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed and its effect on humans, the majority (57.4 percent) has a high desire to avoid these products and want meat and poultry raised without such antibiotics.
Overall, seven out of ten Americans (70 percent) have either bought beef and chicken that was not raised on feed with antibiotics or would like to buy it.
Other concerns about animals raised as livestock include: the use of growth hormones (56.4 percent); a diet of 100 percent natural food free of all animal byproducts (46.9 percent); and humane animal treatment standards (63 percent). The trend tracker survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted by Synovate in May 2004, and was commissioned by Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI), the nation's largest natural and organic foods supermarket. The survey is representative of the general adult population of the United States and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.
Defining “Natural Meat”
Beef and poultry are not currently required to bear labels that clearly explain the presence of or use of antibiotics in feed; the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules for meat labeled “natural” do not require all antibiotics be eliminated. According to the USDA, “natural” may be used on the label when products contain “no artificial ingredients and are no more than minimally processed.”
Almost 80 percent (79.3 percent) of those surveyed would like to see a clear definition of “natural meat” include a standard that the meat be raised without antibiotics in the feed. An almost identical number (78.7 percent) believe the standard should include animals raised without growth hormones. Those surveyed also agreed a definition of “natural meat” should include no animal by-products in the feed (68.4 percent), humane treatment of animals (48.4 percent), and humane slaughtering methods (43.5 percent).
With the most stringent animal welfare standards and definition of “natural meat” in the supermarket industry, Whole Foods Market only sells beef, chicken, pork, and lamb that adhere to its strict standards: no antibiotics, ever; no added growth hormones; humane raising, transporting, and slaughter; no animal byproducts in feed, including feather-meal or rendered fat; and no more than one-third of an animal's life can be spent on a feedlot.
Any facility or ranch raising meat and poultry for Whole Foods Market is required to demonstrate specific standards about raising and handling practices, animal welfare, staff training programs, environmental conditions, labeling, and recall procedures. Each facility must also pass an annual on-site inspection.
“Whole Foods Market's strict animal welfare standards prove antibiotics and growth hormones are not necessary when animals are raised in humane, free-roaming environments and allowed to grow at their normal rate,” said Steve Keville, national meat and poultry coordinator for Whole Foods Market.
Humane Animal Treatment: Setting the Standard
Another significant finding from the annual survey indicates almost half (48.4 percent) of Americans believe animals should be raised using humane treatment standards, as compared with only 37 percent in 2003. Humane slaughter is also important, according to 43.5 percent as compared to less than one-third (30 percent) in 2003.
Throughout the company's 25 year history, Whole Foods Market has championed innovative production standards to improve the quality and the safety of meat and poultry, while also supporting the comfort, physical safety, and health of the animals. The company announced in 2003 it would be the first major grocery chain to create farm animal treatment standards to go above and beyond the company's current strict animal welfare standards already required for meat and poultry sold in its stores.
Developed jointly with Whole Foods Market, producers, animal welfare groups and experts, and an independent third-party food safety auditor, the new standards will meet the utmost standard will be labeled as 'animal compassionate.'
Synovate conducted the E-Nation Online Survey commissioned by Whole Foods Market in May 2004. The sample size of the nationally representative omnibus polls was 1,000 Americans aged 18 or older, with a margin of error +/- 3.1 percent. The sample consists of individuals selected from the online segment of Synovate's Consumer Opinion Panel and is balanced to be representative of the general population based upon region, gender, age and household income data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In July 1998, the National Academy of Sciences, in a report prepared at the request of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, concluded `there is a link between the use of antibiotics in food animals, the development of bacterial resistance to these drugs, and human disease' (www.nas.eduwww.ama-assn.org).