Drug Wars: Consumer Reports vs. U.S. Department of Agriculture

“Data raise questions about more than just one company or class of drugs.” – Consumer Reports

Photo: Lucas Zarebinski

An article in the October 2018 Consumer Reports magazine notes that certain drugs prohibited in poultry, beef, and pork products have been identified in these products by the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS), which denies the report, calling it “fear-based infotainment aimed at confusing shoppers.” FSIS is the USDA agency charged with ensuring, or “proclaiming,” meat safety.

However, Consumer Reports says its data are based on government documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request plus interviews with government, industry, and medical officials relating to a lawsuit by several food safety organizations against one of the U.S.’s largest chicken companies, Sanderson Farms, accused of mislabeling its products “natural” and antibiotic-free.

According to Consumer Reports, “Hundreds of samples of poultry, beef, and pork appeared to show residue of drugs that the government says should never be used in food animals. Other samples had evidence of drugs that must be out of an animal’s system by the time it [he or she] is slaughtered. The samples came from producers large and small, and included meat destined for supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and elsewhere. Yet FSIS officials have taken little if any action on the data.”

Drugs found in these animal products, according to Consumer Reports, include Ketamine, a hallucinogen and experimental antidepressant; Phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory “deemed too risky for human use”; and Chloramphenicol, “a powerful antibiotic linked to potentially deadly anemia.”

FSIS is fuming over the disclosure of its own data and over Consumer Reports’ observation that many Americans eat too much meat and should consider eating less of it for the sake of “good health” and the environment.