It does not look like there is going to be any recall of mislabeled beef, but new studies do mean there is more uncertainty at the meat counter. The study findings, published in Science on April 7, mean a label claim that meat products are “raised without antibiotics” or RWA may not mean much either.

Farm Action and the American Grassfed Association were troubled enough to demand USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recall beef that tested positive for antibiotics in the studies. Also, there was confusion about a third organization’s previous study involving antibiotic residues. Farm Acton and the  American Grassfed Association said it targeted  Whole Foods, but the Austin-based grocery chain said no specific retailer is identified.

“We have extensively reviewed the information made available to us and have no reason to believe that the cattle tested in this study ended up in products in our stores,” a Whole Foods Market spokesperson told The Dovers publication. “We take compliance very seriously and never hesitate to act if a supplier has failed to meet our rigorous Quality Standards.”

“FSIS should swiftly request a recall of the meat in question. If Whole Foods refuses to recall its misleadingly-labeled meat, FSIS should use its legal authority to detain and seize it,” Farm Action and the American Grassfed Association said in a letter to the agency.

Meat products that are RWA are often certified by the Global Animal Partnership or GAP, but testing is not required.

The Science study was done by researchers from George Washington University, who tested urine samples from cattle that were destined for a “Raised Without Antibiotics” (RWA) marketplace and found about 15 percent of the cattle tested positive for antibiotics.

The university researchers say their findings suggest current “raised without antibiotics” labels lack integrity.

Andrew de Coriolis, Farm Forward’s executive director,  shares these  insights on several points:

  • Drugs in meat can, ultimately, harm people.
  • Many of the drugs that FoodID found are medically important antibiotics, primarily Tetracycline—a drug that’s used to treat infections like pneumonia and UTIs in people.
  • The routine use of drugs on factory farms is contributing to the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections. Another recent study suggests that superbugs killed 1.3 million people in 2019 alone.
  • The Science article shows systemic misuse of antibiotics in GAP-certified meat. This is despite consumers’ perception that meat sold by Whole Foods comes from animals raised without drugs on pasture. Most meat sold by Whole Foods comes from animals raised on factory farms.
  • GAP’s and Whole Foods’ human washing of factory-farmed meat is costing shoppers up to 20 percent more.

In a release, Farm Forward also said: “The new study sampled more than 10 percent of the entire raised without antibiotics (RWA) meat supply in the United States during the period of time in which the study was conducted. A significant percentage of all RWA meat in the U.S .was found to be dirty — this was not an isolated incident.”

  • According to the study, 5 percent came from lots where all of the animals tested were positive, indicating that the drugs were administered to the entire herd.
  • GAP herds fared far worse: 22 percent of GAP’s raised without antibiotics beef supply chain came from lots where all animals in the sample tested positive, and an additional 4 percent came from lots where one animal tested positive. In other words, the study suggests that 1 in 5 animals certified by GAP were treated with medically-important antibiotics.

“American Grassfed formed over the issue of truth in labeling,” said Carrie Balkcom, Executive Director for the American Grassfed Association. “We’re reaching out to FSIS now in pursuit of real accountability and oversight.”

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