Beyond Pesticides Sues Sargento Foods for Mislabeling Antibiotic Use as Threat of New Pandemic from Antibiotic Resistant Infections Looms

For Immediate Release                                                                         


WASHINGTON, DC, January 25, 2021—As the world moves toward another pandemic associated with antibiotic resistance, Beyond Pesticides today sued Sargento Foods, Inc. for misleading its customers with product label claims of “no antibiotics,” which is false according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that Sargento’s cheese products are made with milk from cows raised with antibiotics and that antibiotics can be found in some of the company’s finished food.    

The use of antibiotics in agriculture is contributing to a “looming potential pandemic” worldwide, resulting from a “rise in multidrug-resistant bacterial infections that are undetected, underdiagnosed, and increasingly untreatable, [which] threatens the health of people in the USA and globally,” according The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, in September. The World Health Organization has declared that, “AMR [antimicrobial resistance] is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity.” The primary contributors to AMR identified in the scientific literature are antibiotic uses in agriculture and overuse in medicine. 

“This lawsuit is motivated by the urgent need to transition away from practices in agriculture that are dependent on antibiotics, advance organic farm management, and avoid new deadly pandemics,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “One way to do this is to ensure truthful labeling so that consumers can make informed and responsible choices in the marketplace,” he said. 

Because toxic chemical dependency and management practices result in ecosystem imbalance in chemical-intensive (or conventional) agriculture, antibiotics become necessary in both livestock and crop production. Antibiotics are used extensively in factory-style dairy production because the treatment and conditions to which cows are subjected impair their health and cause infections. The majority of dairy cows in the United States are confined indoors and do not graze on pasture. Teat trauma caused by milking machines, genetic selection for high milk yields, and unsanitary conditions make cows susceptible to clinical mastitis from pathogenic bacteria, which is the most commonly reported health problem in the dairy industry. 

Antibiotics are also used widely as additives in animal feed to ward off any potential infections and to promote unnaturally rapid growth (the latter of which translates to higher profits), rather than being used to treat bacterial infections. Both of these objectives compensate for the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). However, use of antibiotics is prohibited in all certified organic production, which incentivizes access to pasture, rotational grazing, and soil management. Although the standards of the National Organic Program require the treatment of sick animals, the dairy, meat, and other products from such animals cannot be sold with the certified organic label. Organic certification bans antibiotics in crop production, while its uses continue in conventional fruit production, some vegetables, and citrus (grapefruits, oranges, and tangerines). 

An FDA (Food and Drug Administration) ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in livestock, which went into effect on January 1, 2017, was confounded later that year by USDA’s rejection of World Health Organization guidance on limiting antibiotic use in animal feed. USDA asserted that treating, controlling, and preventing” disease under veterinary supervision constitutes “appropriate use”—undercutting the ban on antibiotics for growth promotion because, when used in feed for disease prevention, antibiotics also promote growth. 

“In addition to direct ingestion of antibiotic residues, resistant bacteria move from farms to families, through the environment to the human population, known as ‘horizontal gene transfer,’ said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. Additionally, he said, “Beyond the threat from antibiotic-resistant infections, the ability of antibiotics to disturb or kill the gut microbiota in humans can lead to or exacerbate autoimmune and other 21st century diseases, including diabetes, obesity, food allergies, heart disease, cancer, asthma, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and more.” 

The authors of The Lancet article also indicate that the AMR phenomenon can exacerbate COVID-19 risks. They observe that, across five countries, COVID-19 diagnoses are associated with bacterial infections (with 3.5% diagnosed concurrently and 14.3% post-COVID-19). The prevalence is higher in patients who require intensive care. The authors note that, “72% of COVID-19 patients received antibiotics even when not clinically indicated, which can promote AMR.” 

Beyond Pesticides is represented by Richman Law and Policy, based in Irvington, New York. The action is brought under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (“CPPA”), D.C. Code § 28-3901, et seq.

About Beyond Pesticides

Beyond Pesticides is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., which works with allies in protecting health and the environment with science, policy, and action to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides.

Contact: Jay Feldman, Executive Director, Beyond Pesticides, 202-255-4296, [email protected]