Antibiotics Off the Menu Coalition Responds to Costco’s December 2018 Antibiotics Announcement

Costco’s recent announcement about antibiotic use in its meat supply chain is disappointing in that it commits the company to nothing more than sourcing from suppliers that comply with current federal laws. Though we appreciate the company’s expression of concern about antibiotic overuse in livestock, a policy that simply asks suppliers to follow the law does not constitute meaningful progress on the urgent crisis of antibiotic resistance or meet the public health imperative to further reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.

Costco’s new policy restates the existing U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approach. The problem is that federal laws and regulations around routine use of medically important antibiotics in meat production remain too weak. It is true that the FDA made the use of these lifesaving medicines to promote animal growth illegal in January 2017. However, the agency continues to allow many of the same antibiotics to be used routinely to ‘prevent disease’ in animals that aren’t sick.

The overuse of medically important antibiotics on farms contributes to the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can potentially cause infections in people that are difficult or sometimes impossible to treat. That’s why expert health bodies - from the World Health Organization to the American Academy of Pediatrics - strongly recommend that medically important antibiotics be reserved to treat sick animals, or to control a verified disease outbreak, and not be used on a routine basis in healthy animals for disease prevention purposes.

Voluntary commitments by companies like McDonald’s to end the routine use of medically important drugs across their meat and poultry supply chains are important because they exceed the weak U.S. guidelines, and are in line with stronger recommendations proposed by the World Health Organization.

Costco should follow the example of other food industry leaders and commit to ending all  routine use of medically important antibiotics in its meat and poultry supply chain. Today, 18 of the top 25 restaurant chains in the United States have set meaningful policies for their chicken supply chains, and McDonald’s, a major beef buyer, recently committed to restricting antibiotic use in its global beef supply.

With a strong antibiotics policy, Costco can join their ranks as an antibiotic stewardship leader, rather than confusing the public with weak announcements like this. Doing so will help keep antibiotics effective for when they’re truly needed to treat sick animals and people.

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