Consumer Demand for Healthier Food is Driving Changes in Production Practices

By Lucia Sayre

A recent Wall Street Journal article - “Meat Companies Go Antibiotics-Free As More Consumers Demand It” - is music to our ears. The article points out that although antibiotic-free beef, pork, and chicken represent only around 5% of meat sold in the United States, that share is growing quickly. For instance, antibiotic-free chicken sales rose 34% by value last year. 

There’s a clear message here: Consumer demand for sustainable meat is affecting meat production practices across the country.

Just over two years old, our antibiotics campaign is in full swing. As we continue to urge the FDA to increase regulation and decrease the overuse of medically important antibiotics in agriculture, the drumbeat gets louder and louder from the marketplace. Consumers are concerned about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Institutional buyers are concerned about the meat products they are purchasing and serving in their facilities. The health care sector is concerned about the efficacy of medically important antibiotics, the most powerful class of drugs available to prevent and treat bacterial infections.  

Their concern rang clear in a recent report from the Consumer Reports National Research Center that found 85% of doctors surveyed had diagnosed one or more of their patients with a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection within the past year and 93% of doctors are concerned with the use of antibiotics in livestock production facilities for animals that are not sick.

Antibiotics overuse in animal agriculture is an issue that’s gaining the public’s attention. As the demand for healthier meat products in the marketplace increases, meat companies are starting to pay attention too. 

Health Care Without Harm’s efforts to increase and coordinate the demand within the health care sector for more sustainably-raised meat products are working. On October 24, 352 hospitals around the country participated in a Food Day event organized by HCWH to serve 126,600 meals featuring meat or poultry raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics.  Health care professionals are spearheading resolutions in their facilities calling for an end to the procurement of meat produced with routine antibiotics. 

Health Care Without Harm is also organizing a national meat procurement collaboration effort, bringing together leaders from the health care sector, representatives from the food companies and distributors that hold contracts with these hospitals, and representatives from the education sector, to tackle supply chain issues that stand in the way of increased sustainable meat procurement. 

The demand is there and keeps growing. We will address any issues that stand in the way of hospitals being able to source healthier meat produced without the routine use of antibiotics in the marketplace.  

Lucia Sayre is the Co-Coordinator of our Healthy Food in Health Care program as well as Co-Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.