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Campaign For Antibiotic-Free Meat Targets Trader Joe's

Affordable imported cheeses. Check. Good wines on the cheap. Check. And oh yeah, the Seaweed Salad. Is it really only $2.99?

Trader Joe's has won consumers over with its frugal-gourmet-meets-neighborhood-store feel.

But now, it appears that lots of consumers want something more from TJ's: A commitment to stop selling meat from animals treated with antibiotics.

Over 500,000 people have signed the petition urging Trader Joe's to drop the meat and poultry products it sells that are raised using antibiotics. "The widespread use of antibiotics in food animals contributes to the spread of deadly, antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs' in humans. We must preserve our antibiotics, and your leadership could begin to change the priorities for our nation's livestock producers. Thank you," the petition says.

The push is part of a broader campaign that will target other food retailers. So why are they leaning so hard on Trader Joe's?

"We believe it [Trader Joe's] is well positioned to make this commitment," Michael McCauley of Consumers Union tells The Salt in an email.

McCauley points out that TJ's already sells some meat raised without antibiotics. And he says since many of the company's products are private label, TJ's could use its leverage with suppliers to transition to antibiotic free meat exclusively. Also, TJ's has shown leadership on other sustainability issues such as its commitment to carrying only eggs from cage-free hens, at least those sold under its private label.

As we reported back in April, concerns about antibiotic resistance in humans led the Food and Drug Administration to issue voluntary guidelines that recommend limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock animals. And while the food industry maintains that there is no link, recent investigations into the causes of frequent bladder infections in humans have suggested that there is.

So Traders Joe's, what say you?

"We continue to develop new sources to support new product offerings with the antibiotic-free (ABF) attribute" Alison Mochizuki, TJ's public relations director wrote to us in an email.

And she says the company goes to great lengths to make consistently available a whole bunch of antibiotic free options. This includes products labeled as "all natural" or organic, such as Tri-Tip Beef, hot dogs, sliced ham and lamb loin, to name a few.

But is the company considering phasing out meat that comes from animals routinely treated with antibiotic drugs? If it is, it's not talking about it.

Consumers Union requested a meeting with TJ's leadership to discuss the issue. But Trader Joe's VP of Marketing Matt Sloan replied that while he remains open to reviewing important information, a meeting "isn't something we feel is necessary at this time," according to a letter Consumer Reports shared with us.

Stay tuned. The last time consumer advocacy groups put pressure on TJ's -over the issue of fair-pay for tomato farm workers the company ultimately took action.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
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