How to decode labels on commercial meat packaging to identify whether the animals were raised without antibiotics 100% of the time.
Reading food labels is a bewildering experience for the majority of consumers. This confusion is purposely engineered in some cases 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 labels were clear and required full disclosure.
This very effective cat-and-mouse game is also played with other neurotoxins like aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), and other artificial sweeteners consumers actively attempt to avoid.
These fake sugars are frequently hidden in sports drinks and other “low carb” fare too under the overly broad “natural” or “artificial” flavorings labels.
To avoid undesirable additives such as carrageenan and gassed meats, consumers must battle an ever-changing landscape of labeling gamesmanship played by food manufacturers, sadly aided and abetted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself.
Second-Hand Antibiotic Exposure
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. (2)
Both of these conditions are linked to low-dose antibiotics in animal feed.
A shocking 70% of all antibiotics in the United States every year are purchased by agribusiness for otherwise healthy livestock!
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” is a source of pride for the country’s thousands of farmers.
It provides strong evidence that low-dose antibiotics given to animals via feed can have health consequences for humans. (3)
Low-dose antibiotics fed to livestock via feed cause them to mature more quickly.
This may be one cause of early development in girls who consume meat and dairy produced from such animals. (4)
Reading Meat Labels is Tricky
Consumers concerned about the problems described above are changing their buying habits to avoid meat and milk from animals subjected to the daily insult of antibiotics in their feed. (5)
Unfortunately, they have their work cut out for them.
As with other undesirables like MSG and aspartame, antibiotics can hide behind confusing labeling nuances.
Not Fed Antibiotics
According to the USDA, a product labeled “Not Fed Antibiotics” or “No Subtherapeutic Antibiotics Used” may actually still come from an animal that was given antibiotics for illness or injury. (6)
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.
No Detectable Antibiotic Residue
Even more vague are meats with the label “No Detectable Antibiotic Residue“. (7)
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.
No Antibiotics Used or Raised Without Antibiotics
The best labels for consumers seeking antibiotic-free meats at the store are “No Antibiotics Used” or “Raised Without Antibiotics“. (8)
These labels mean that the animal was raised from birth to slaughter with no antibiotics used at any time.
Interestingly, the USDA prohibits the label “Antibiotic Free”.
Thus, if you buy commercial meat, look for “No Antibiotics Used” or “Raised Without Antibiotics”.
Either of these labels is the best indication of a clean product.
How to Source 100% Antibiotic-Free Meats
For consumers who don’t want to play labeling games or keep up with regulations, buying from a local farm is best.
This way, 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 plays semantics games designed to deceive.
(1) A special thanks to Stanley Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat and Tender Grassfed Barbecue. Stanley helped me track down the USDA references for this article!
(2, 4) Effects of Environmental Endocrine Disruptors on Pubertal Development
(3) Denmark’s Case for Antibiotic-Free Animals
(5) Renewed Call to Get Antibiotics Out of Food
(6-8) USDA Federal Register, Vol. 67, No. 250
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Hi Sarah – great information here, especially for those who are new to getting acquainted with real food. You know, I have never seen the first three labels you have described, but I don't doubt they are out there. Most of our meat is purchased locally and we know where it comes from, but I do buy some Organic Prairie meats (bacon and hot dogs). We haven't been able to find a good local source of bacon yet without antibiotics/hormones, etc. Organic Prairie's label reads "raised without antibiotics". We also sometimes buy Applegate Farms lunch meats as they are organic (but unfortunately are not pasture-raised and therefore are probably fed grains, corn, and soy). But at least they are organic.
Love the variety of information you offer here at your site. Keep up the great work Sarah!
This was such a useful post – so full of information that we all need to know so we can "fight" with knowledge when we purchase food for our families. Thank you for linking this to Two for Tuesdays!
My goodness, it's all so slippery, when you follow a money trail, and so difficult to be a wise and educated consumer. Thank you for sharing this with Two for Tuesday. I know a lot of people will find this information very helpful.
the clark clan
Hi Sarah! Wonderful wonderful article and I would LOVE to share it on my thoughts on friday link love post because it is so important and just another reason to support grass fed organically stewarded animal products! Thank you so much for sharing this on the two for tuesday recipe blog hop! HUGS! [email protected]