The Truth About Antibiotics in Meat and Poultry

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD 

Antibiotic use in livestock is widespread, leading to concerns about the presence of antibiotics in the food supply. According to some estimates, approximately 50% of the antibiotics consumed in the United States are given to animals raised for food (1).   

Health experts worry that the practice of using antibiotics to raise livestock may contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans, making it difficult to treat infections and leading to premature deaths. 

Even more, a recent report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that almost all major fast food chains used meat from animals that had been raised with antibiotics (2). In other words, your fast food habit may be doing more than just packing on extra calories!  

However, even though antibiotic use in animals is rampant, there are meats and animal products from animals raised without antibiotics available. This article highlights why farmers use antibiotics for their livestock and how you can find antibiotic-free meats. 

Reasons for Antibiotic Use in Animals 

 Antibiotics are used in raising livestock for a variety of reasons. For one, animals may temporarily receive antibiotics to prevent the development of an infection or to treat an existing illness. On the other hand, antibiotics may be given to animals continuously to enhance growth (1).   

Some of the antibiotics used in animals are also used to treat human disease. Therefore, regularly eating animals that have been treated with antibiotics may contribute to antibiotic resistance. As a result, people may be more likely to suffer from untreatable infections that could result in death. 

How to Find Meat Raised Without Antibiotics 

Due to the growing issue of antibiotic resistance in humans, the FDA has mandated that treating animals with antibiotics of medical importance to humans must be phased out over the next five years (3).  

Some meats and animal products that do not have antibiotics are already available and can be identified by their labels. Although there are no official definitions of the “raised without antibiotics” and related labels on food, products with these labels generally adhere to the following practices. 

  • Raised Without Antibiotics: animals did not receive any antibiotics from birth to slaughter. If an animal on a farm that does not use antibiotics gets sick, it is no longer sent to slaughter with the other animals.  

  • Organic: also indicates that the animals did not receive antibiotics.  

  • No Medically Important Antibiotics: animals may have received antibiotics, but did not receive ones that are used to treat human infections.  

  • No Growth-Promoting Antibiotics: animals did not receive antibiotics to promote growth. However, this does not mean that the antibiotics weren’t used for other reasons. 

To cut back on your consumption of meat and other products from animals raised with antibiotics, make sure to look for meats from animals that did not receive antibiotics and read the fine print on labels. 

Note from Healthy For Life Meals: All of the meats and animal products used in our meals are from animals raised without antibiotics!  No antibiotics – ever. Get started today.

Stef Keegan