NJPIRG raises awareness of new 'Chain Reaction Report' at media event on George Street
Last Wednesday, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) held a brief media event outside Starbucks on George Street to highlight the release of their national organization’s “Chain Reaction Report.”
The report grades the 25 largest chain restaurants in the country on their policies concerning the routine use of antibiotics in livestock.
Terese Osborne, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and the coordinator of NJPIRG's Save Antibiotics campaign, said that Starbucks was chosen as the location for the event because its grade improved this year from an F to a D+.
“The reason why we want these policies changed is because the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms is a major breeding ground for superbugs, or bacteria resistant to antibiotics, which is a huge public health issue,” Osborne said. “In fact, every year 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant diseases, and we don't want that problem to grow.”
Antibiotics are used as medicine to treat bacterial infections in people. But en masse, antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock. This is done because it allows the animals to be kept in unsanitary conditions, and causes them to gain weight faster, she said.
Osborne said that when antibiotics are used to such an extent, bacteria begin to adapt to it and become resistant to its effects, creating “superbugs” that cannot be treated by antibiotics, and so antibiotics themselves become less effective.
The FDA estimates that approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are fed to farm animals.
“Our population is expected to grow a lot over the next 50 years,” said Erin McKeown, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior. “If there's increased demand for food and livestock production in a smaller and smaller space, these antibiotics are going to continue to be overused. It's one of those things that could spiral out of control easily if we don't stop the problem now.”
Osborne said that the health risk of routine overuse of antibiotics is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
For this semester, NJPIRG is specifically targeting Wawa, she said. In this campaign, NJPIRG will seek to increase the visibility of the issue through media events and campus tabling events. It will also conduct “photo petitions,” in which volunteers will photograph people who have signed a petition against the overuse of antibiotics and then post the pictures to Wawa's Facebook page.
“The main point of this campaign is we want factory farms to stop selling meat raised on antibiotics, so instead of targeting the suppliers, we're targeting the demanders,” Osborne said. “We're targeting the food chains, hoping that if food chains change their policies then suppliers will switch over and also change their policies.”
In USPIRG's annually released “Chain Reaction Report,” grades are assigned according to the scope and effectiveness of each corporation's policies on the use of antibiotics in livestock, she said. The highest rated corporations on the list are Chipotle and Panera, both of which have enacted policies of only selling meats raised without the routine use of antibiotics.
Starbucks' previous grade of F signified that it had no policy at all on antibiotic use. This year its grade was changed to D+ on the basis of its new commitment to selling chicken raised without routine use of antibiotics by 2020, Osborne said.
Grades in the report are highly subjective to the needs of each corporation. For example, both McDonald's and KFC have committed to selling chicken raised without the routine use of antibiotics. But whereas KFC is known as a chicken restaurant, McDonald's also sells a lot of pork and beef, so KFC's policy is more effective, she said.
“We want to educate consumers and we want consumers to join this cause as well and ask their local chains that sell meats that overuse antibiotics to change their policies,” Osborne said. “It's through the power of the consumer that we can move the marketplace, create an industry-wide change, and eventually perhaps even have a national policy that ensures that the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms is no longer an issue.”
Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.