New law passed in San Francisco would require grocers to report on animal antibiotic use
- San Francisco lawmakers have voted unanimously on a local ordinance that requires large retailers to annually report on antibiotics used by their meat and poultry suppliers, according to Food Safety News. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the matter now goes to Mayor Ed Lee for final action.
- The law is the first of its kind to be passed in the U.S., and requires local retailers to collect annual data from suppliers on their antibiotics policies and practices. Furthermore, grocers must back up the information with evidence, such as a third-party certification, or risk fines of up to $1,000 per day, per violation.
- The law applies to grocers that have more than 25 locations worldwide, which means that retailers like Walmart, Target and Whole Foods must comply.
The NRDC recently assigned a D grade to some of the nation’s largest grocers representing more than half of the national market —Costco, Albertsons, Publix, Walmart and Kroger — for poor promotion of better antibiotic practices and antibiotic-free chicken offerings. While they may have failed to make public commitments to reducing antibiotic use in poultry and, more broadly, meat supply chains, San Francisco lawmakers have taken matters into their own hands.
By publicly posting the antibiotic information that retailers submit to the San Francisco Environment Department, proponents of the law — which include local public health officials and consumer and animal watchdog groups —hope to both educate consumers and shame meat and poultry producers into eliminating unnecessary antibiotics used for speeding the growth of livestock and other non-medical reasons.
Today's average consumer is demanding more natural and “clean” offerings across all food categories, but meat raised without antibiotics is of particular interest. Consumers are concerned that when producers use antibiotics in meat that are also used in humans, those antibiotics can become less useful to humans — and help fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." About 2 million people in America contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 23,000 die.
While the newly passed ordinance may draw greater awareness of the issue and push retailers and their meat and poultry suppliers to revisit their practices, it raises some red flags for the industry as well. And it doesn't just concern companies in the Bay area, but those operating across the entire meat and poultry supply chains — and the entire food and grocery industry at large.
Putting such reporting mechanisms in place places a tremendous burden on both retailers and the supply chain. Enforcing such a law in San Francisco — and the possibility of other markets following suit — certainly would add costs that could then lead to meat and poultry price hikes. Worse yet, retailers could find their supply chain drying up if meat and poultry processors refuse to comply.
Despite increasing demand for antibiotic-free meat products, the Food and Drug Administration continues to report rising sales of antibiotics for food animals. All companies aren't moving away from antibiotic use either. Chicken processor Sanderson Farms sticks by its use of antibiotics. However, more laws like this one could put pressure on such producers to change their ways and phase out antibiotic use.
Meanwhile, many meat processors are trying to figure out how to balance the use of antibiotics with general public opinion. Some major manufacturers have committed to cutting back their antibiotics usage, while others have chosen to promote transparency of their antibiotics use to dispel myths and better inform consumers. Several companies have introduced new antibiotic-free product lines that could find a huge opportunity to fill gaps in a market like San Francisco.
Still, the likelihood of any widespread change in national policy is probably a ways off.
Even if a national law were to be proposed, there’s no guarantee of it being imposed, especially with any immediacy. One needs only to look at the backlash, pushback and time frame surrounding the FDA’s updated Nutrition Facts label that, among other things, requires specific reporting of added sugars. Following protests from several industry groups, the compliance date has now been extended to Jan. 1, 2020 for large manufacturers, about a year and a half out from the initial deadline of July 2018.
- Food Safety News San Francisco grocers subject to new meat/poultry reporting
- National Resources Defense Council SF to Lift Veil of Secrecy on US Livestock Antibiotic Use
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