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October 18 2018

No! Your Fast Food Burger Isn't Contaminated with Antibiotics

by Julie Gunlock

So, this morning, millions of Americans woke up to the latest alarmist headline—that burger chains are using meat contaminated with antibiotics.

Except, that’s not at all what the reports says. In fact, the report doesn’t say much of anything about the safety of the meat being used in American fast food restaurants.

Instead, the report simply grades restaurants based on their antibiotic policies—or rather, grades them based on their adoption of antibiotic policies approved by radical green groups. In other words, the report gave a higher score to the restaurants that claim they source their meat from animals that have never (ever!!) received antibiotics. 

The reason the report grades them on their policies rather than testing the meat for antibiotic residue is because ALL MEAT sold in the grocery store and served in fast food restaurants (and all restaurants for that matter) is FREE of antibiotics.  Even animals who, at some point during their life spans, received antibiotics because of sickness or infection, end up producing antibiotic-free milk and meat because the FDA requires farmers to wait a specific amount of time after the last dose of medicine before milking or slaughtering the animal so the animal’s body can fully metabolize and rid itself of the antibiotic. (If you’re interested in learing more about this, check out what dairy blogger Dairy Carrie says about testing for antibiotic residue at her dairy farm)

Of course, these sorts of reports make a much bigger impact if you can scare people so that’s precisely what they did—suggesting antibiotic residues are saturating the happy meal you just ordered for your sweet kid. It’s a weaselly way to scare the American public yet that’s the strategy employed by these green groups.

While mainstream media stories suggest the report is from the Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports, the report’s authors actually have nothing to do with that publication. Instead, the authors -- Matthew Wellington and Shelby Luce -- both work for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (more commonly known as U.S. PIRG). You might be familiar with U.S. PIRG from the annoying clipboard carrying college kids who come to your door soliciting signatures on left wing, environmental causes. Frankly, I look forward to arguing with these kids—who often have zero clue about the issues on which they’re seeking signatures but are really just looking for some beer money or college credits. The Capital Rsearch Center is doing an investigative series on U.S. PIRG that's worth a read. 

As for Consumer Reports, well, sadly, they can no longer be trusted on most issues. I still use CR for reviews on toasters, bikes and cars, but when it comes to food and agriculture, I steer clear. 

Here’s why. The Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, has been increasingly active on and promoting of left-wing causes for years. For almost 20-years, the organization and publication has maintained a solid anti-GMO stance—promoting bad science and quackery in order to push for more restrictions on the biotech industry. The publication regularly bashes farmers and food producers, and it uses known paid organic activists—like Charles Benbrook—as consultants in order to coordinate attacks on the GMO and conventional agriculture sectors.

Consumer Reports also has an all too-cozy relationship with radical environmental organizations like U.S. PIRG and the Center for Food Safety. These relationships clearly make CR unreliable to review the safety, durability and reliability of products without bias (which is a key part of consumer reviews and guidance). 

The report also cites as co-authors and contributors to the report activists like Lena Brook and Allison Johnson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Kari Hamerschlag of Friends of the Earth, Cameron Harsh of Center for Food Safety, and Steve Roach of Food Animal Concerns Trust and Keep Antibiotics Working—all hard left, radical green activist organizations. 

Is Consumer Reports really suggesting we take this report seriously when it’s written by employees of extremely radical environmental groups? Seems just a wee bit biased, no?

In truth, the association of its authors to these outside groups doesn’t necessarily render the report useless, but it is important that consumers understand that the report wasn’t produced by an unbiased academic or scientific agency. That matters. 

It’s also worth saying a word about the cruelty that the strident antibiotic-free movement represents. Antibiotics are indeed overused and used inappropriately—by both humans and in some cases, farmers. Indeed, farmers sometimes give antibiotics to healthy animals to either expedite their growth or to hand stave off infections due to unsanitary farm conditions before those infections have materialized. That policy needs to be reevaluated. But to suggest there’s no role for antibiotics is foolish at best and cruel at worst. 

For example, just like women who breastfeed, cows often develop mastitis in their udders—an infection due to a clogged milk duct. The condition is incredibly painful and can be cured easily with the use of antibiotics. Do we really want to deny a diary cow this sort of medicine and let her die in agony? Do we want a farm to lose its certification as a supplier of antibiotic-free meat and milk because it used a vital antibiotic to treat ailing animals? It’s easy to forget that even under the best conditions, farm animals live in conditions that are welcoming to bacteria. Antibiotics keep animals safe from bacterial infections. 

Sadly, this report won’t do anything to help animals. It’s a naked attempt to create a consumer demand based on bad information (one can just see panicked moms worrying about that burger they just ordered their child) and an effort to push restaurants into adopting radical policies on farming and agriculture in order to respond to this demand.

Ultimately, both consumers and animals will suffer because of this report. 



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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