Trader-Joes-CircleFor a company that says it listens to its customers, sometimes Trader Joe’s can be hard to reach.  And for a friendly ‘neighborhood grocery store,’ sometimes they’re not so friendly when you actually do.

For almost a year, Consumers Union has been trying by various means to start a dialogue with the grocery chain on an important topic–the fact that overuse of antibiotics in meat production is contributing to antibiotics losing effectiveness against human disease.

Some 80 percent of all antibiotics are sold for use in food animals, to promote growth and prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions.  Dousing the animals with drugs leads to bacteria becoming immune, both in animals and people.  Trader Joe’s could do something to help address this problem right now, by ending sales of meat and poultry raised on antibiotics in its stores.

It’s been hard to get through though.  More than half a million people signed a petition last fall asking Trader Joe’s to end its sales of meat raised on drugs. But when we asked for a meeting to discuss it, they refused. Some 8,000 people took flyers to store managers, over 30,000 signed postcards to headquarters and nearly 60,000 sent emails to TJ’s executives.   But the company still won’t listen to its customers and refuses to change its meat policy.

Last week, after weeks of trying to set up an in-person meeting, we stopped by company headquarters in Monrovia, CA with a letter from 14 major consumer and environmental organizations asking for a meeting with CEO Dan Bane.  We were refused once again.

So we put an ad in the Los Angeles Times encouraging customers to call the company asking them to address the issue, hoping we could reach them that way.   Trader Joe’s effectively hung up the phone, filing a complaint of abuse against the company we worked with to route the calls to their headquarters.  A Trader Joe’s staffer said the company was “getting an overwhelming amount of calls” and asked that the number be blocked to protect them from “scams like this.”

At their stores, customers didn’t fare much better.   When some campaign supporters handed out leaflets this past week at one of Trader Joe’s Pasadena stores, the company called the police to evict them from the parking lot.  And employees at some locations have simply refused to accept flyers from customers and campaign supporters that ask the company to stop selling meat raised on antibiotics.  One manager reportedly said he already knows that people don’t want the meat with antibiotics and that the flyers are a waste of paper.

What happened to all those friendly guys in Hawaiian shirts?  Actually they are still there.  In fact, quite a few of them can’t believe that their company actually sells meat raised on antibiotics.  Dozens of them chimed in on Facebook to claim that all of Trader Joe’s meat is already “no antibiotics.”   We wish it were true.  But in fact, a statement recently released on Trader Joe’s website confirms that the company does sell meat from suppliers that are likely to use antibiotics.

You can help.  Call Trader Joe’s and ask for customer service, 626-599-3700. Tell them you’d like them to sell only meat that hasn’t been raised on antibiotics.  It is one big way Trader Joe’s could help preserve antibiotics for treating ear infections, pneumonia, and other health problems for which we need them so badly. Selling meat raised on drugs?  Say it ain’t so, Trader Joe.

- Jean Halloran