AUSTIN, Texas (May 28, 2003) A nationwide survey released today shows that when Americans — regardless of age, education, income level, and region — shop for beef and poultry, almost three-quarters (74 percent) are concerned about the presence of antibiotics in meat production. This concern comes closely after top basic concerns such as price, flavor and food safety. Yet, less than one-half of Americans (48 percent) are aware that the beef and poultry purchased at American supermarkets commonly are raised on feed that contains antibiotics.
Only 27 percent of those surveyed are aware of the scientific dialogue documenting problems caused by overuse of antibiotics in animals raised for food. Once they learn of the reports showing a connection between the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed and its effect on humans, the majority (59 percent) has a high desire to avoid these products and want meat and poultry raised without such antibiotics.
The survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted by Synovate (formerly Market Facts) in spring 2003, 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 United States adult population and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. The results of the survey were further discussed today among industry experts gathered in New York City at the “Natural Meat — Raised to Taste Better” roundtable to address the current state of natural beef and poultry, consumer concerns, antibiotic use and humane treatment of animals.* “Antibiotic medicines are losing effectiveness on humans due to their increased use in animal feed,” said Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, JD, director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Animals raised in natural environments rarely require the use of antibiotics. Americans who choose meat produced this way are making conscious decisions to ensure that antibiotics will still be working when they or their family need them.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are now fed to animals raised for human consumption in order to hasten the animals' growth or prevent illness amid crowded, unsanitary conditions on factory farms.
“The survey released today indicates Americans' strong desire to buy 'natural' meat. Yet, only one percent of the total beef and poultry sales in the United States is considered 'natural,' meaning it comes from animals raised without antibiotics throughout their lifecycle,” said David Smith, vice president of marketing, Whole Foods Market. “The major concern about antibiotic usage and the low awareness of its prevalence in meat production indicates a significant demand for antibiotic-free, natural meat once consumers become educated about the issue.”
The use of antibiotics in food animals has attracted the attention of Congress. Senator Ted Kennedy (MA) and Representative Sherrod Brown (OH) plan to re-introduce bills soon to phase out the routine use of medically important antibiotics in poultry and livestock. Similar legislation introduced in the last Congress was endorsed by over 170 groups, including the American Medical Association.
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 – even 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.”
Whole Foods Market takes the definition of “natural” meat several steps further in its national quality standards.
“Our definition of natural meat means that it was raised without any antibiotics, added growth hormones, or animal byproducts in its feed,” said Margaret Wittenberg, vice president, governmental and public affairs, Whole Foods Market. “We want to educate consumers that alternative meat products that have been raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones are available. Whole Foods Market believes truly natural meats taste better, and they help avoid the health risk of developing antibiotic resistance. Our standards also include provisions for the humane rearing and slaughter of animals.”
Whole Foods Market only sells beef, chicken, pork, and lamb that adhere to its strict definition of “natural.”
Antibiotics and growth hormones are not necessary when animals are raised in humane, free-roaming environments and grow at their normal rate. In addition, under Whole Foods Market's strict animal welfare and safety standards, no animal byproducts are allowed in feed. In today's heightened awareness of food-borne illnesses such as the recent Canadian case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) – or Mad Cow Disease – Whole Foods Market's standards include full traceability of each animal from conception to consumption.
According to the Whole Foods Market survey, nearly eight in ten (78 percent) Americans believe it is important for standards to be in place to more clearly define “natural” meat that include: meat and poultry raised without antibiotics; meat raised without added growth hormones; and animals raised and processed using humane methods. In addition, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans believe all meat and poultry products should conform to a regulated standard reflecting this definition.
Overall, four out of five Americans (81 percent) have either bought beef and chicken that was not raised on feed with antibiotics or would like to buy it.
Natural Meat: Raised to Taste Better?
“I believe there is a strong correlation between humane rearing and taste. What goes into an animal affects the temperament and overall well-being,” said Mel Coleman, Jr., a fifth-generation Colorado cattle rancher and chairman of Coleman Natural Meats. “Beef from cattle that have been raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and in a well managed environment tastes better…like beef used to taste.”
Whole Foods Market's eight regional meat coordinators have developed personal relationships with ranchers and farmers to ensure that strict quality standards are enforced through third-party audits. The meat counters in the company's 143 stores feature experienced teams ready to provide knowledge and cutting expertise like neighborhood butchers of yesterday. Each store provides extensive resources including educational brochures and meat counters with custom cuts, cooking instructions, a wide variety of unique choices and personal recommendations from experienced team members.
Synovate, the new name for Market Facts, conducted the E-Nation Online Survey commissioned by Whole Foods Market in March and May 2003. The sample size of the nationally representative omnibus polls was 1,000 Americans aged 18 or over in each of the two waves, with a margin of error +/- 3.1%. 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.
*Roundtable panel of experts: Mel Coleman, Jr, Coleman Natural Beef Laurie DeMerritt, The Hartman Group Dun Gifford, Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust Margaret Mellon, Union of Concerned Scientists John Nicholson, Whole Foods Market Meat Coordinator Michael Romano, Chef at Union Square Café in New York City Scott Sechler, Bell & Evans Poultry Theo Weening, Whole Foods Market Meat Coordinator Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Governmental and Public Affairs for Whole Foods Market and Author of “Good Food- The Comprehensive Food and Nutrition Resource”
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.edu); In October 2001, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a guest editorial titled `Antimicrobials in Animal Feed–Time to Stop' (nejm.org); In June 2001, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution opposing nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture (www.ama-assn.org).
To arrange an interview with a meat expert, rancher or industry leader or to obtain a white paper from the Roundtable Discussion please contact Greer Bautz or Kristen Goldberg at (617) 227-2111.