Seattle University Law School, Seattle Journal for Environmental Law SJEL, Environmental Law, Antibiotics, Agriculture


This article examines the dynamics and likely effects of NGO efforts at private, market-driven regulation of antibiotics use in US agricul-ture. Such NGO efforts aim to eliminate the routine feeding of anti-biotics to healthy animals for the purposes of prophylaxis and growth promotion. To that end, NGOs are pressing large food retailers, who are some of the most powerful market actors, to demand antibiotic-free meat and to refuse selling meat produced with sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics. Curbing agricultural overuse of antibiotics is critically important for public health because overuse erodes the curative power of antibiot-ics by creating antibiotic resistant animal and human pathogens. The NGO turn to the market as a source of private power and authority for curbing such overuse is motivated by the ongoing success of ag-ricultural and pharmaceutical interests in blocking public regulatory controls. This article evaluates the potential for retailer-targeting NGO initi-atives to reform the use of antibiotics in US agriculture, drawing on insights from analyzing similar market-based initiatives by NGOs seeking to reform ecologically problematic practices in the fisheries sector. This cross-sector comparison suggests that even if market-based an-tibiotic reform initiatives prove limited in their private regulatory achievements, they still have considerable transformative potential. Even if the market power and private regulatory authority of targeted retailers proves insufficient to change problematic antibiotic uses, for example, the NGO focus on retailers can still advance the public regulatory reform of antibiotics in agriculture by turning politically influential retailers into major beneficiaries and supporters of such reform.