Nation’s Top Grocery Stores Get ‘D’ Grade on Antibiotic-Free Chicken, Says NRDC

antibiotic-free chicken
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The Natural Resources Defense Council has assigned a “D” grade to America’s top five grocery store chains for their progress – or lack thereof – on the promotion of better antibiotic practices and antibiotic-free chicken offerings.

The NRDC’s new report, entitled “Crying Fowl: Major Grocers Stumble in Promoting Antibiotic Stewardship in Retail Chicken,” was released yesterday and investigates if and how Costco, Albertson’s/Safeway, Publix, Walmart, and Kroger market and sell antibiotic-free chicken brands.

These five chains represent more than 50 percent of the market share in North America. Overall scores attributed to each of the retailers in the report were as follows: Costco (40%), Albertson’s/Safeway (39%), Publix (38%), Walmart (38%), and Kroger (33%).

“The grades reflect the fact that none of the top five retailers have made a strong public commitment to addressing antibiotic overuse in the supply chains for chicken sold in their stores,” notes a news release for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The top five grocery store chains in the country feed millions of Americans, so their actions have a big impact on public health — for better or worse,” said Carmen Cordova, staff scientist with the NRDC. “Supermarkets can either continue to ignore the spread of drug-resistant infections, or they can answer their customers’ call to be a part of the solution.”

While this is certainly a hurdle to overcome, many retailers and restaurants in the United States have committed to addressing antibiotic overuse in livestock, particularly in recent months. Whole Foods, for example, has a storewide policy for antibiotic-free meat, and several fast food restaurants including KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, and Subway have committed to move toward antibiotic-free chicken over the next few months or years.

“In the absence of action at the federal level, consumers have been driving the move toward meat raised with responsible antibiotics use,” said Cordova. “The fast food industry has been leading the way—but people want to be able to eat better meat at home too. Our report shows that grocery stores have a lot of catching up to do.”

More than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in the United States are destined for livestock use. In an overwhelming majority of these cases, antibiotics are distributed in regular low doses to promote fast growth of animals and prevent, rather than cure, diseases brought about by unsanitary living conditions. This practice promotes the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can be extremely harmful to both humans and animals.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.