Quirky grocery chain Trader Joe's is dealing this week with some concern over its products, including a public statement from a major advocacy group criticizing the presence of antibiotics in meat and a lawsuit from the state of California alleging undisclosed lead content in candies.
In an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Consumers Union singled out Trader Joe's for selling meat from animals fed a steady stream of antibiotics. The full-page spread featured the word "WARNING!" in bold red script and called on the company to "be an industry leader" and "help curb a major public health crisis."
Trader Joe's sells a selection of antibiotic-free chicken, beef, turkey, ham and lamb, the company said. The homegrown business – founded in Pasadena and based in Monrovia – also offers private label goods that shun genetically engineered ingredients, or GMOs.
"We understand the importance of our customers’ decisions when it comes to their grocery shopping and do not presume to make choices for them," the company said in a statement. "We work hard to offer products we think fit our customers’ needs—covering a range of considerations."
Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of ratings and review magazine Consumer Reports, said it has urged regulators to codify limits on antibiotic use on livestock.
The meat and poultry industries rely heavily on drugs to keep animals healthy and growing fast in factory farm conditions that are often dirty and cramped, the advocacy group said in a statement.
But heavy doses of antibiotics could hasten the rise of even heartier diseases capable of resisting medication, the group said.
Consumers Union said that Trader Joe's has refused to meet to discuss the concerns. In its statement, the company said it will "continue to develop new sources to support new product offerings with the antibiotic-free attribute."
Earlier in the week, Trader Joe's was named in a lawsuit filed by California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris' office in Superior Court in San Francisco.
The complaint, which also names Target, Whole Foods, 99 Ranch Market and others, accuses the companies of selling ginger and plum candies containing lead without properly warning consumers.
At issue in Trader Joe's case was its Uncrystallized Candied Ginger product. The company does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki said in an email.
The lack of warning labels violates the state’s Proposition 65, which requires businesses to notify shoppers when products contain harmful elements. Fines for noncompliance could reach $2,500 a day for each violation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that even low levels of lead in blood can affect children's IQ along with their academic achievement and ability to pay attention.