Consumer Beware: Antibiotic Free Meats That Aren’t

by Sarah Healthy LivingComments: 15

Reading food labels is a confusing experience for the majority of consumers.   This confusion is purposely engineered in many instances to keep consumers guessing and product sales flowing.   MSG, for example, hides behind over 50 different labeling names.   Overwhelmed consumers are often deceived into buying products loaded with MSG that they would never buy if labeling policies required full disclosure.

This very effective cat and mouse game is also played with other neurotoxins like aspartame (nutrasweet), splenda, neotame and other artificial sweeteners consumers actively attempt to avoid.   These pseudo sugars are frequently hidden in sports drinks and other “low carb” fare using the overly broad “natural” or “artificial” flavorings labels that allow food manufacturers to hide the exact names of undesirable chemicals away from the concerned eyes of the consumer.
To avoid undesirable additives, consumers must battle an ever changing landscape of labeling gamesmanship played by food manufacturers that is aided and abetted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Is Your Meat Truly Free of Antibiotics? 

Neurotoxins aren’t the only chemicals consumers are trying to avoid in their food.   An ever growing segment of the consumer market is seeking meat from animals raised without antibiotics due to concern over the rapid rise of superbugs like MRSA and the ever plummeting age in which young girls are experiencing the onset of puberty – both of which are linked to low dose antibiotics in animal feed.
In Denmark, a ban on the use of antibiotics in animal feed drastically reduced antibiotic resistant infections in people.   “The Danish Experiment”, a source of pride for the country’s 17,000 farmers, provides strong evidence that feeding antibiotics to animals has deadly consequences in humans.  
Low dose antibiotics fed to livestock via feed causes them to mature more quickly, and this may be one cause of early development in girls who consume meat and milk produced from such animals.   
Just another reason to avoid taking your children to fast food restaurants where the meats are an antibiotic residue pharma fest.   Ah, but I digress …. 
Antibiotics in drinking water is yet another environmental problem linked to the use of these drugs by agribusiness.  A shocking 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States every year is purchased by agribusiness  for otherwise healthy livestock!

There’s The Rub

Do you want meat from this animal?

Consumers concerned about the problems described above and wishing to avoid antibiotics in their food are falling all over themselves to buy meat and milk from animals not subjected to the daily insult of antibiotics in their feed.  As with other undesirables like MSG and aspartame, antibiotics are hiding behind confusing labeling nuances.

According to the USDA (Federal Register, Vol. 67, No. 250; December 30, 2002), a product labeled “Not Fed Antibiotics”  or “No Subtherapeutic Antibiotics Used” may actually come from an animal that was given antibiotics for illness or injury.   An FDA antibiotic withdrawal period prior to “harvest” (slaughter) to reduce (but not necessarily eliminate) antibiotic residue in the meat must be observed for either of these labels to be used.    

Even more vague are meats with the label “No Detectable Antibiotic Residue“.  Products with this label mean that “a statistical sampling analysis using a science based protocol” was unable to detect any antibiotic residue.   In other words, the animals could have been eating antibiotic laced feed for the entire production phase but the farmer simply followed the prescribed FDA withdrawal phase before slaughter.   If subsequent “science based” tests failed to find antibiotic residue, the label is permitted.

The best labels for consumers seeking no antibiotic meats at the store are No Antibiotics Used” or “Raised Without Antibiotics“.  These labels mean that the animal was raised from birth to slaughter with no antibiotics used at any time.

Best Way to Source Truly Antibiotic Free Meats

Interestingly, the USDA prohibits the label “Antibiotic Free” for some reason.   It seems to me that if a consumer wants to source truly antibiotic free meats, it would be best to go to a local farmer where you can familiarize yourself with how the animals are raised and observe production procedures.    
I personally feel more comfortable trusting an actual person I’ve had a conversation with about how the animals are treated in both illness and health than a label that may or may not be accurate or whose semantics has deceived my buying intentions!

*A special thanks to Stanley Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat, for helping me track down the USDA reference material for this article.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

This post is submitted to Fight Back Friday, Two for Tuesdays, and 5 Dollar Dinners

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