Most National Grocery Chains Fail Antibiotics-in-Meat Test

Oct. 12, 2022 — Three-quarters of the largest grocery chains in the U.S. are failing to limit the use of antibiotics in their house-brand fresh meat, thus contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance. 

That’s according to a new report, “Superbugs in Stock,” produced by members of a coalition of public health, animal protection, and consumer groups known as Antibiotics Off the Menu. Of the nation’s top food retailers, Target fared the best — but even it only received a C grade.

About half of the fresh meat sold in this country is purchased in stores. 

“That means the grocery industry has a potentially major impact on how antibiotics are used in meat production,” says Matthew Wellington, public health campaigns director at U.S. PIRG, a member of the coalition. “This report shows a dire need for more progress in the grocery sector.”

A Report Card for Supermarkets

For the past 6 years, the coalition focused on restaurants, with an annual report about the practices of major fast-food and fast-casual chains. In the wake of these reports, several chains announced changes to their policies, though not all have followed through. 

“We saw there was progress with the restaurant chains, so we wanted to look at the other place people get most of their food,” says Steven Roach of the Food Animal Concerns Trust, lead author of the report. “And coming through the pandemic, where there had been a shift from people eating out to eating at home, we thought it was good time to look at grocery chains.”

Roach and his co-authors gathered information about the supermarket chains’ policies on antibiotic use in private-label chicken, turkey, pork, and beef through a survey as well as company websites and published materials. They assigned points for various scoring criteria — things like having a meaningful and transparent public policy that links to animal welfare, enforcement of that policy, and using third-party verification.

Their findings don’t exactly inspire confidence. Of the dozen major grocery retailers in the U.S., eight received an F grade, with 10 points or fewer out of a possible 100. That group includes Kroger, Walmart, and Albertsons, three of the five top-earning grocers in the U.S. While many of the failing companies do carry some house-brand meat labeled “raised without antibiotics,” none have strong policies to cover the entire range of their private-label fresh meat.