Whole Foods Lawsuit Claims Beef Sold at Stores Breaks Promise of 'No Antibiotics, Ever'

Test results revealed in April alleges that beef products pulled from Whole Foods' shelves tested positive for antibiotics despite labeled claims.

Fresh beef displayed at a Whole Foods Market
Photo: Brooks Kraft / Getty Images

Whole Foods Market has come a long way from a single Austin natural food store in 1980 to its current status as a subsidiary of Amazon. And yet, despite inevitable changes, Whole Foods has worked to maintain parts of its original ethos: On their website, the company info still begins, "We seek out the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture."

But a new lawsuit calls at least one of those commitments into question: The nonprofit Farm Forward — along with three consumer plaintiffs — alleges Whole Foods' promise that its beef contains "No antibiotics, ever" is false advertising after the anti-factory farming group's testing found antibiotic residue in meat purchased from the brand.

Farm Forward originally announced its findings back in April, writing that independent testing had detected monensin in meat labeled as containing "no antibiotics." "The use of monensin is prohibited within the USDA Organic program and by Global Animal Partnership's (GAP's) Animal Welfare Certified program, which certifies all meat sold in Whole Foods stores," the advocacy group continued.

Then, yesterday, Farm Forward announced they had joined the consumer class action lawsuit which includes their April findings as evidence that Whole Foods' "no antibiotics" claims — which the legal filing states dates all the way back to 1981 and can be found on dozens of products — may now be used to deceive shoppers. According to the suit, beyond simply being misleading, if false, the "no antibiotics" claim also means consumers "were economically harmed" since Whole Foods' certified beef commands a premium price, with one product being 28 percent higher than conventional meat at other retailers.

As a result, not only does the lawsuit "seek an injunction requiring Whole Foods to correct and clarify its past and ongoing misrepresentations and omissions," but also "to recover [consumers'] overpayments for Beef Products due to Whole Foods' false advertising."

"We have hard evidence not only that meat on Whole Foods shelves could be marketed deceptively as antibiotic free, but that the problem extends to the entire industry," Andrew deCoriolis, Farm Forward's executive director, stated. "Industry insiders know that meat is being 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."

Farm Forward's connection to Whole Foods runs relatively deep. The group says that Whole Foods founder John Mackey was a member of their board from its inception in 2007 until 2018. Additionally, Farm Forward was part of the Global Animal Partnership's board, but resigned and began testing Whole Foods products after their concerns of misleading claims were brushed aside.

We contacted Whole Foods for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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