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SF to mandate large grocers disclose antibiotics used in meat

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San Francisco is poised to require large grocers to disclose the use of antibiotics used in livestock and poultry that’s sold in their stores. About 122 stores in San Francisco would be impacted by the proposal. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco is expected to soon require large grocery stores to report the use of antibiotics used in livestock and poultry that’s sold in their stores.

The first-of-its-kind proposal would increase efforts to curtail the overuse of antibiotic drugs in raising livestock and poultry by going beyond federal and state requirements.

The use of antibiotics in livestock to speed up growth or compensate for squalid conditions is partly blamed for a spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control considers one of the top five health threats facing the country.

At least 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant infections annually and at least 23,000 die as a result, according to the CDC.

SEE RELATED: SF has beef with antibiotics used in grocery store meats

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy introduced the legislation in June, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner, and on Wednesday the board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee unanimously voted to send it to the full board for a vote Tuesday.

“It is my hope that we can stem the tide of antibiotic-resistant infections by providing consumers with information about the antibiotic use policies and practices behind meat products sold in San Francisco stores,” Sheehy said.

The proposal impacts large grocers in San Francisco — those with 25 or more outlets around the world — including Safeway, Walgreens, CVS, Grocery Outlet, Whole Foods and Bristol Farms. That covers about 122 stores in The City.

Grcoers will have to annually submit reports to the Department of the Environment with the use of antibiotics in the meats and poultry sold in their stores, including the average number of days of antibiotic use per animal, the percentage of animals treated with antibiotics, the number of animals raised and the total volume of antibiotics administered.

The information would then be used to inform the public of antibiotic use in the products. The effort is intended to use the power of the consumer to force marketplace change.

Education around the issue has led some well-known fast food chains like Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken to change their antibiotic use policies.

The City will also examine its own meat purchases. Meat is purchased by the Department of Public Health for hospitals, the Sheriff’s Department for jails and the San Francisco Unified School District.

The proposal is opposed by the California Grocers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation and the North American Meat Institute, but widely supported by The City’s environment and health officials.

Timothy James, a senior manager with the California Grocers Association, said The City should go after the livestock producers, not the “middle-man.”

“Unfortunately, this ordinance is determined to hold grocers responsible for information for which they have no control over and is more easily retrieved by the city directly from producers,” James wrote in a letter Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors.

Noelle Cremers, a director with the California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farmers and ranchers in California, requested the board not pass the legislation.

“California farmers want to ensure that antibiotics remain effective so that they can treat sick
animals as well as their own family,” Cremers wrote in a letter Tuesday to the board. “However, focus should be placed on efforts to address resistance rather than create costly reporting systems that don’t do anything to change resistance.”

Department of the Environment Director Debbie Rafael said The City needs to step in and address the “very scary situation.”

“The City has a long history of working with the commercial sector to help them change their practices, move the marketplace by simply daylighting existing practices,” Rafael said.

She acknowledged there will be challenges for the grocers. “For some of these supermarkets they don’t actually know that information,” Rafael said. “This is going to be new for them. They are going to have to find out about the antibiotic practices of the meat that they sell.”

She added, “By asking them to find out this information we are hoping to invite them into a conversation about changing the supply chain.”

Avinash Kar, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group working to crack down on antibiotic livestock abuse, supports the legislation. “Consumers can make a big difference,” Kar said. “San Francisco can step in and help guide the market.”

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