- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Three California residents, joined by the nonprofit Farm Forward, filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods on Tuesday that challenges the chain’s marketing of “antibiotics-free beef.”

California plaintiffs Sara Safari, Peymon Khagani and Jason Rose have a beef with the Amazon-owned company over the grocer’s meat, which they allege contains antibiotic residue.

“In 2021 and 2022, Farm Forward tested samples of meat products purchased at six different Whole Foods locations in San Francisco, Virginia, Chicago, and Salt Lake City. This chemical testing revealed the presence of pharmaceutical residue, including antibiotic residue, in the beef products,” the complaints reads.

One laboratory used by the nonprofit found, the lawsuit alleges, a growth-promoting antibiotic in beef from a Whole Foods in San Francisco that was certified USDA Organic and given a Global Animal Partnership (GAP) rating of 4 on a scale of 1-5+, with 5+ being the highest standard of welfare for farmed animals.

A second laboratory uncovered an antiparasitic antibiotic in five beef products sold in Chicago and Salt Lake City. All five products were GAP-certified, with four being rated 4 on the GAP scale and three being sold as pasture-raised.

On the GAP website, it says that, at every level of certification for beef, there are “no antibiotics ever” and “no growth hormones.”

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The echoing of Whole Foods’ marketing slogan is no coincidence; the legal complaint notes that “GAP’s executive director is Whole Foods’ Executive Leader of Meat and Poultry,” and that both the store and GAP use “GAP certified meat” and “Animal Welfare certified meat” interchangeably.

The plaintiffs allege that the misleading marketing damages fellow consumers in two ways.

Firstly, administering antibiotics to meat animals “contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals — bacteria that consumers of the meat eventually ingest,” as written in the legal complaint.

Secondly, consumers are willing to pay more for animal welfare certified and antibiotic-free meat products. The complaint points out that “Whole Foods charges $31.99 per pound for beef tenderloin steak filet mignon. A traditional retailer charges only $24.99 per pound for the same cut of beef.”

Farm Forward, for its part, served on the board of GAP until 2020, and promoted both the certification and Whole Foods products bearing said certification.

“We have hard evidence not only that meat on Whole Foods shelves could be marketed deceptively as antibiotic free. Rather than thoroughly test to ensure the accuracy of its own antibiotic claims, Whole Foods has profited while deceiving its customers,” Andrew deCoriolis, executive director of Farm Forward, said in a press release.

Gretchen Elsner, one of the lawyers bringing the class-action lawsuit, told Forbes that consumers are  “going into Whole Foods saying, ‘I am anti-factory-farming and I’ll pay more for this higher-quality meat.’ But they’re just giving more money to the industry.”

The Washington Times has reached out to Whole Foods and Amazon for comment.

• Brad Matthews can be reached at bmatthews@washingtontimes.com.

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