WASHINGTON – According to the office of U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY), more than 60 fast-food companies, livestock producers, meat and poultry processors and retailers received a letter from the congresswoman asking for disclosure of the use of antibiotics in the products they sell.

“In the past year alone, we have had more outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella associated with contaminated meat and poultry than any other year, leaving behind a trail of victims that cannot be treated with common antibiotics,” she wrote in the letter sent to fast-food companies.

The science behind claims that antibiotic use in livestock is linked to the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans and pathogens in livestock is a hot-button issue that continues to be debated among health officials, producers and processors. Stating a goal of clarifying how much the fast-food industry is supplied with meat and poultry from producers who routinely use antibiotics, Slaughter’s letter asks for specific information from the companies to gauge the prevalence of antibiotic use and whether education about what she views as being a “health issue” could enhance public awareness.

Companies are asked to respond to the letter by June 15, 2012, providing information about their policy with suppliers regarding antibiotic use; consumer education programs relating to antibiotic use; percentage of meat and poultry supplies that come from animals given antibiotics for therapeutic vs. non-therapeutic reasons; and any planned policy changes regarding the use of antibiotics.

“Consumers have a right to know what's in their food," said Slaughter. “We just want to know, 'what's in the beef?'”

The use of antibiotics was the topic of a feature in Meat&Poultry in the January issue.