This fantastic article was written by The Healthy Happy Coach, Joshua Graham (Fitness Expert and Nutritionist). Connect with him on Facebook at The Healthy Happy Coach .
By now we’ve all seen the ‘no antibiotics’ label on meat at the local butcher or grocery store, but not all of us fully understand what that means, if it is accurate and if it can be trusted. This article will help you become a more informed customer when you’re buying meat at the grocery store and ask the right questions.
Why are antibiotics used?
Antibiotics are used in order to kill bacterial infections, they do not work when used against a viral infection. When an animal gets sick often antibiotics are used in order to treat that animal to prevent the rest of the animals from getting sick. Depending on the company they may choose to treat all the animals with antibiotics if sick or not.
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Antibiotics have also been used in order to help increase the size of animals. This allows these producers to obtain more revenue for their animals since they weight more.
The Problem with Antibiotics:
Since both of these instances described above help boost profits for farmers it often leads to widespread use and over application of antibiotics with animals. Since antibiotics are used to help kill bacteria, the bacteria that do survive exposure to antibiotics are much stronger and dangerous. Evidence does exist that antibiotic resistant genes can and are transferred to from animal to the human microbiota.
Antibiotic use in agriculture is extremely widespread, to put it in perspective about 88% of all growing pigs receive antibiotics in their feed. That is a staggering amount of antibiotics going into the food chain every single day. The reason these products are needed more often is due to the poor-quality conditions many of these animals are raised in. Since these conditions are breeding grounds for illness and infection antibiotics need to be used to prevent losing a whole group of animals to illness.
There are many issues for us when we consume these products since when we do, we ourselves will be consuming very low levels of antibiotic residues that are still found in the tissues. Even though these but we will be sticking to antibiotics in this discussion.
Raised without Antibiotics:
When we see these words or similar phrases like “no antibiotics ever” then we know that no kinds of antibiotics have been used in the life cycle of the animal. If an animal does need to be given antibiotics at any time it will be pulled out and put into the conventionally raised line.
For a meat product to be labeled as USDA organic it cannot be treated with antibiotics. There is an exception for poultry as antibiotics can be given in the hatchery and up until the second day of life. For a product to be labeled as certified organic it must meet the standards that are set out and pass inspections. If the product is labeled as organic and raised without antibiotics you can be sure that none were used at anytime.
No growth promoting antibiotics:
When a label says this, it does not mean that no antibiotics were used at all during the raising of the animals. Antibiotics could still have been used in order to treat an illness or infection however, there are no growth promoting antibiotics put into the animal’s feed. Even though some antibiotics may have still been used this is a better choice than conventionally raised.
No medically important antibiotics:
This means that medically important antibiotics (i.e. ones that are used to treat people) are not given to the animals. The FDA passed a new policy where medically important antibiotics can no longer be given to animals to speed up their growth, they can however still be used to treat illnesses under the supervised care of a veterinarian. This label lets us know that this animal has never been given medically important antibiotics throughout its lifecycle. Some of the larger fast food companies are starting to implement this policy with their poultry products.
Raised without critically important antibiotics:
Tim Hortons and Burger King announced they would be making this change for their poultry in 2017 in the US and 2018 in the Canada. The WHO has a list of critically important antibiotics in human medicine and these brands will be avoiding using these in their poultry. However, Consumer Reports found that most of these antibiotics are not used in poultry raising anyways so this does not amount to much of an actual change. This tag also allows for other antibiotics to be used just as long as they are not on the critically important list.
The Bottom Line
More and more we are seeing labels on meat products listing the lack of antibiotic usage which is fantastic to see. The less antibiotics that are used in farming then the lower risk there is of antibiotic resistant infections taking hold in humans and causing serious illnesses. Also, more consumers are becoming aware of antibiotics and their effect on human health and in turn the demand for antibiotic-free products is growing.
By voting with our dollar we let companies know what we value and more will continue to make positive changes regarding antibiotic usage. Use the information above to make an informed decision for what is best for you, your family and your health.
- Studies to Evaluate the Safety of Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Human Food. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/AnimalVeterinary/GuidanceComplianceEnforcement/GuidanceforIndustry/UCM124674.pdf
- JJ Dibner and JD Richards. Antibiotic Growth Promoters in Agriculture: History and Mode of Action. Poultry Science Association, Inc. Nov 2004.
- Timothy F Landers, et al. A Review of Antibiotic Use in Food Animals: Perspective, Policy and Potential.
- USDA Organic 201: A closer look at the U.S Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program and related resources. https://apps.ams.usda.gov/organic/201/Organic201-Aug2012.pdf
- Helen Branswell. Tightened rules for antibiotics for food livestock go into effect. Stat News. https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/03/fda-livestock-antibiotics/
- Tom Polansek and Lisa Baertlein. Burger King, Tim Hortons to curb antibiotic used in chicken. Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-rstrnt-brnd-antibiotics-chicken-idUSKBN14H1ON
- Trisha Calvo and Rachel Meltzer-Warren. What those ‘No Antibiotic’ claims really mean. Consumer Reports. http://www.consumerreports.org/overuse-of-antibiotics/what-no-antibiotic-claims-really-mean/
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