By Hannah Becker on May 12, 2017

5 myths about antibiotics in our meat

hamburgers on a grill

Antibiotic use in agriculture has become a trending topic, as retail chains advertising “antibiotic free” meat products continue to make headlines.

Consumer demand forthese types of food options have sparked internet debate, and as with most digital-driven discussions, a few myths have emerged.

Here are five popular myths regarding antibiotics in our meat, and the food truths every health-conscious consumer should know:

1) Myth: Meat labeled “antibiotic-free” is healthier to eat.

Most consumers seeking these types of meat products are attempting to improve their diet, believing if they pay premium prices they are opting for the healthier, more nutritious choice. But is that really the case? All meat available for sale within the United States is essentially antibiotic-free (even if it’s not labeled as such), as antibiotic use within modern agriculture production practices is highly regulated. In fact, meat you purchase from the grocery store will not have any antibiotic residue in it. It’s the law.

2) Myth: Once administered, antibiotics stay in an animal’s body forever.

Like most ingestible agents, antibiotics are metabolized with the body and naturally processed out. Depending on the substance, it can take anywhere from a few hours to several days for the its residue to be removed from the animal’s body. The FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) monitors residue levels within meat, along with requiring specific withdrawal times to prevent no above limit residue levels enter the food supply. 

3) Myth: Antibiotics in our meat are making us more resistant.

Antibiotic resistance isn’t a new conversation; scientists have known of the risks associated with antibiotic application (in both animals and humans) since penicillin was first administered as a life-saving drug during World War II. Whenever they  are used irresponsibly (this includes not following doctor’s orders regarding Amoxicillin use when we get the “sniffles” or not completing a round of antibiotics because you feel better), the risk of widespread resistance is a possibility. In the words of BEEF Senior Editor Burt Rutherford, "Antibiotic resistance is everyone’s problem. And it will only be managed if everyone—human health, animal health and consumer advocates—work together.”

4 )Myth: Organic farmers never use antibiotics with their animals.

Like conventional producers, organic farmers may use antibiotics to treat sick animals as they are ethically obligated to ensure the health of their herd. When organic farmers utilize antibiotics to help one of their animals overcome an illness, they are required to remove the treated animal from the organic operation and market them as non-organic, in accordance with the United States Department of Agriculture’s current labeling regulations. All animals, regardless of whether they were raised organic or non-organic, are not allowed to enter the food system until the regulated withdrawal periods have passed.

5) Myth: All meat from commercial agriculture contains antibiotics.

According to the North American Meat Institute, more than 99 percent of all meat tested by the United States Department of Agriculture tests negative for any antibiotic residue. Most meat products within our food supply – including those not marketed under the “antibiotic-free” label – do not contain any antibiotics. While a popular study citing that more than 80 percent of antibiotics administered within the United States are given to livestock may have gained headlines, it was later deemed statistically inaccurate by the FDA. The Animal Health Institute recently revealed that people and their pets are currently using 10 times the amount of antibiotics than found in livestock production.

Photo credit: Carnivore Style

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  • Hannah Becker

    Hannah Becker

    Hannah Becker is a millennial author, farmer, and marketing consultant. With the sole professional goal of growing up to "be a cowgirl," Hannah is the enthusiastic farmer behind Willow Springs Farm, in Franklin County, Kan. Hannah has a B.S. in Animal & Dairy Science from Mississippi State University, and a... Read more