5 Reasons to Choose Antibiotic-free Meat

Antibiotics are routinely given to livestock as a part of their feed to promote faster growth and to prevent diseases that may result from unhealthy living conditions. In fact, an astonishing 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals, not people. You can limit your family's exposure to superbugs and help preserve the efficacy of antibiotics for everyone by saying no to products from animals raised with antibiotics. 

Here are 5 reasons to choose antibiotic-free animal products.

1. The vast majority of antibiotics in animal feed have never been evaluated for superbug risk.

Of the 270 drugs used in chickens, pigs, and cattle that contain antibiotics considered medically important for treating humans, the FDA has vetted just seven percent for superbug risk. In 2003, the FDA announced plans to evaluate every new animal drug's potential to create superbugs. Problem is, most drugs currently being administered were approved before 2003. In other words, they were grandfathered in and aren't subject to evaluation. (source)

2. Some of the nation's largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens multiple antibiotics "at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs" (source).

According to an in-depth investigation by Reuters, major U.S. poultry firms administer antibiotics to their flocks as a standard practice during most of the birds' lives. While not all of the antibiotics used are considered medically important to humans, it is important to note that the CDC has said that the use of any antibiotic contributes to resistance, since superbugs can develop cross-resistance to other antibiotics, including antibiotics medically important to humans.

3. Industrial livestock workers carry drug-resistant bacteria home from animals to their families and communities.

A new (2014) study discovered that industrial hog workers carry livestock-associated antibiotic-resistant bacteria for several days, raising questions about the potential health risk to their families and communities (source).

4. The American Medical Association wants to ban antibiotic use on farms for growth promotion.

According to one article, "Infectious disease doctors are 'quite freaked out by the fact that their antibiotics are not working a lot of the time now,' [Wallinga, a physician on the Keep Antibiotics Working steering committee] noted. “The AMA policy is a reflection of the increasing level of crisis that these doctors feel, but there’s still a disconnect in the general public at how serious a problem it is.” In fact, a broad coalition of medical and public health groups have asserted that the "overuse and misuse of important antibiotics in food animals must end, in order to protect human health" (source).

5. In the United States, each year antibiotic-resistant infections cause 23,000 deaths, $20 billion in direct health care costs, and an additional $35 billion in societal costs.

According to the 2013 CDC Report Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, "Every year, more than two million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result." C. difficile, one of the microorganisms with a "threat level of urgent" and also the bacteria that once took over my gut, all by itself causes approximately 250,000 hospitalizations and at least 14,000 deaths every year in the United States. The report estimates that in the U.S. antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess direct health care costs, with additional societal costs for lost wages, extended hospital stays, and premature deaths as high as $35 billion a year.

The CDC report also states that "[b]ecause of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth." Check out the infographic that shows two ways giving antibiotics to animals can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

Antibiotic-resistance isn't a disaster waiting to happen. It is a disaster, happening right now all around us.

Here's what you can do:

Purchase only certified organic animal products, or animal products from a producer you know first-hand and trust. 

With organic certification, you are guaranteed that no antibiotics or hormones were used on the animal, and that the feed given was pesticide-free. There are also some minimal animal welfare requirements. I personally would also feel comfortable supporting a ranch or farm that I had visited or that was vetted by a small local CSA operation. At the very least, look for meat and poultry products labeled as "no antibiotics added." These products do require some documentation with the USDA, but be aware that these claims are not verified.

Support legislation and regulation forbidding the use of antibiotics in livestock except to treat disease (not to prevent disease nor to promote growth). 

Unfortunately, even if you avoid supporting the practice of routinely feeding animals antibiotics yourself, the practice endangers all of us. We are squandering a precious and finite resource to make animals fatter faster and allow animals to be raised in unnatural and unhealthy environments.

You can sign the NRDC petition or contact your representatives or the White House directly to express your concern about this issue.

Although the FDA issued new regulations meant to curb the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in livestock in December of 2013, some consumer health advocates remain skeptical, fearing that the new regulations are not stringent enough and include significant loopholes. This is a timely moment to make your voice heard, as the White House earlier this month called for a task force to tackle antibiotic-resistant bugs.

Check out this post for additional ways to help keep antibiotics effective for you and your children.

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photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via photopin cc


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