July 25, 2018
By Kenai McFadden, Fair Farms Public Health Intern
If you’ve spent a lot of time on the Fair Farms blog, you might already know that the issue of antibiotic overuse in animal production is incredibly important. It’s one reason why the Fair Farms Wise Choice campaign exists, urging regional grocer Weis Markets to re-evaluate their relationship with Sanderson Farms, a poultry company that continues to use human antibiotics on its animals. Sanderson also employs misleading advertising in their “Truth About Food” Campaign, and they aren’t the only company using this tactic.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian have published articles that continue to expose the diversion tactics used by Elanco, a pharmaceutical company, in their attempts to downplay the public health concern regarding irresponsible antibiotic use in farm animals.
The Enough Movement is, in Elanco’s words, “a global community working together to ensure that every one of those people has access to nutritious, affordable food—today and in the coming decades.” Sounds good, but what does that mean?
The Enough campaign appears to be a disingenuous advertising campaign that attempts to confuse consumers on the usage of antibiotics in food. Their thinly-veiled campaign messaging instructs mothers to: “Breathe. Pour a glass of wine. (If that’s your thing.) Prepare your family the chicken. Whether the label says ‘no antibiotics’ or not, the meat or milk you buy is free of harmful residues from antibiotics.”
Sarah Sorscher, Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, commented in the Guardian: “Ads like this are patronizing. Industry should be looking for ways to address valid consumer concerns. Instead, they’re trying to brush us off like we’re a bunch of hysterical women who just need a pat on the head and a good glass of wine to calm down.”
On top of the condescending nature of the ads, these companies are muddying the conversation by using questionable messages about antibiotic residues in food rather than the more pertinent issue of antibiotic resistance that occurs as a result of antibiotic overuse in food production.
Weaker bacteria may be killed when farm animals receive routine doses of antibiotics to compensate for poor living conditions, but stronger bacteria strains survive, and pass down their resistance.
Dosing farm animals that aren’t sick results in antibiotic resistant “superbugs” that can find their way to the consumer through more ways than you would think, from farmers’ shoes to exhaust fans to flies to the food itself.
We should be saving antibiotics for when we need them most: to control common infections and ensure routine medical procedures go smoothly. According to the 2014 O’Neill Report on antibiotic resistance, the regular use of medically-important antibiotics could be responsible for approximately 700,000 preventable deaths each year due to antibiotic resistance, with that number increasing to 10 million deaths per year projected by 2050.
Elanco’s campaign is a clear attempt to reverse the trend of consumers waking up to the grave reality that comes with animals raised with routine use of antibiotics. Furthermore, this advertising ploy is not original: we’ve seen the tobacco industry and oil industry use this tactic of communicating the “truth” when their market is endangered.
Sanderson Farms’ 2016 “Truth about Food” campaign, mentioned earlier, is very similar to what we are seeing with the Enough Movement. The television ad series attempted to appraise meat labelled as “antibiotic-free” as “misleading”. Their messaging structure was similar:
“Some chicken companies try to get you to spend more money by using labels like ‘raised without antibiotics’. At Sanderson Farms, we don’t believe in gimmicks like that. No antibiotics to worry about here.”
However, according to a report released last month by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return investment group, Sanderson Farms is in fact ranked among the worst companies for its policies on antibiotic use in animals.
Both Elanco and Sanderson Farms are failing to address the global superbug crisis and their own role in creating antibiotic resistance, even while other companies such as Maryland-based Perdue have taken pledges and steps towards responsible antibiotic use. Without real changes, this could become an even more alarming public health issue, and our children and grandchildren’s futures will be seriously endangered .
Have you had ENOUGH? Weis Markets, a regional grocery store, stocks and sells chicken produced by Sanderson Farms. We want Sanderson to adopt a responsible antibiotics policy, meaning they won’t use medically important antibiotics in a routine pattern. If you are concerned about the dangers of the routine overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, you can help by supporting the Fair Farms Wise Choice Campaign and signing the petition here.