Earlier today, the Washington Post published an explosive article reporting that beef certified by Global Animal Partnership (GAP), the animal welfare certification used primarily by Whole Foods Market, was found to contain antibiotic residue despite GAP’s and Whole Foods’ claims that their meat is “antibiotic-free.” While this news will come as a surprise to many, it simply confirms what our testing has revealed.
Prior to the release of this troubling new information, Farm Forward launched our own antibiotic testing program, purchasing Animal Welfare Certified™ meat from Whole Foods for analysis by two accredited, third-party laboratories. Farm Forward found residues of an antibiotic and other drugs in meat samples from Whole Foods, including one sample labeled “antibiotic-free,” GAP Animal Welfare Certified™, and USDA Organic. The antibiotic, monensin sodium, is used to promote growth.1
We chose to investigate Animal Welfare Certified™ meat sold by Whole Foods because it is viewed by consumers as the gold standard. Whole Foods shoppers pay up to 20 percent more for products they believe are healthy and natural, so the retailer has a greater incentive than other grocers to ensure that its supply chain aligns with the claims it makes about its products. If shoppers can’t trust “no antibiotics, ever” meat sold by Whole Foods, who can they trust?
Farm Forward’s test results are a smoking gun affirming our suspicions that the presence of drugs in meat is an industry-wide problem. The peer-reviewed data released in Science provides confirmation: 15 percent of the total sample size, which represents 12 percent of all “antibiotic-free” beef produced in the United States, came from feedlots where at least one animal tested positive for antibiotics.2 Animal Welfare Certified™ products fared particularly poorly: 22 percent of the Animal Welfare Certified™ cattle tested came from lots where 100 percent of animals sampled tested positive. In other words, these were not isolated incidents affecting only individual animals but entire herds.
Farm Forward has long been concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal production because these drugs are often used to compensate for filthy conditions and unhealthy animals, or to accelerate animals’ growth to increase profits. The impact of these antibiotics on human health is also a serious concern. Most of the antibiotics identified by the study, primarily tetracycline, are medically important for use in humans. Tetracycline is used to treat illnesses like pneumonia and urinary tract infections, and its overuse on factory farms contributes to the rise of antibiotic resistant infections, known as superbugs. A recent study suggests that in 2019 alone superbugs killed 1.3M people.
Despite our long-running concerns about GAP and Whole Foods falling short of consumers’ expectations about animal welfare, their failure to prevent the misuse of antibiotics within their supply chain calls into question their ability to make guarantees about animal welfare. Whole Foods continues to use labels like GAP’s Animal Welfare Certified™ to humanewash, obscuring the truth that the vast majority of products on their shelves come from factory farms.
Join us in calling on Whole Foods to label their products truthfully. If it’s factory farmed, call it factory farmed. And if the truth is too troubling for shoppers to stomach, take factory farmed products off your shelves.
Be the first to get breaking results from Farm Forward’s antibiotic testing program when you sign up for our newsletter below.
Image Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / Israel Against Live Shipments / We Animals Media