Wednesday, August 3, 2005 12:29 PM CDT
DES MOINES (AP) — Food service giant Compass Group, which cooks for schools, museums, hospitals and corporations nationwide, unveiled a first-of-its kind purchasing policy aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics in pork production.
Released Tuesday, it comes just days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of Baytril in poultry because of concerns the drug could lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in people.
Compass’ new policy was drafted with the help of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc., the nation’s largest pork producer, and the nonprofit group Environmental Defense.
It prohibits the purchase of pork in which antibiotics approved for human use, including penicillin, erythromycin, oxytetracycline and sulfamethazine, have been used to promote growth.
For years, medical professionals have been calling for a halt to the use of such antibiotics as a feed additive, said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, state epidemiologist in Iowa, which leads the nation in pork production.
“That wasn’t a good enough reason to be using some of these antibiotics,” she said, adding that there can be valid reasons to treat sick animals with the drugs.
The concern is that the effectiveness of human antibiotics has been compromised.
“The biggest danger is that you would end up with an infection for which no antibiotics work,” Quinlisk said.
Of greatest concern are the kinds of infections that can pass from animals to people, including the foodborne illnesses campylobacter and salmonella, she said.
Becky Goldburg, senior biologist with Environmental Defense, said antibiotics in feed provide only the slimmest advantage to pork producers.
“If you give the pigs a good diet and manage them well and keep them in a clean environment, the antibiotics make little difference,” she said. “Antibiotics can be used as a crutch for mediocre management.”
The policy also requires Compass Group suppliers to report and reduce antibiotic usage over time, something that Smithfield Foods has been tracking, spokesman Dennis Treacy said in a statement.
The company began several years ago to limit antibiotic use and now reports the amount of feed-grade antibiotics per pound of pork sold.
Cheryl Queen, spokeswoman for Compass Group, said the policy is a good business move as consumers become more conscious of the food they eat.
“I think it’s consumer driven,” Queen said. “We are all looking at our diets. This is just a response to that.”
Compass Group restaurants and cafes, which also serve sports arenas, colleges and airports, use 30 million pounds of pork each year. With beef and chicken, the company uses 200 million pounds of meat each year.
Goldburg said she hopes the new policy “will raise awareness and affect consumer buying habits.”
Toby Fallsgraff, spokesman for the interest group Keep Antibiotics Working, said “that’s what we’d like to see — the idea that this is the first of its kind and won’t be the last of its kind.
“Other food service companies are going to say, ‘If a company as big as Compass can pull it off, then we’ll take the risk, too.’ It’s a good policy,” Fallsgraff said. “It’s healthy.”
Charlotte, N.C.-based Compass Group, The Americas Division, is the largest contract food service company with 152,000 employees throughout the United States, Canada and Latin America. It had revenues of $6.7 billion in fiscal 2004.