When I heard that this summer the FDA called the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in meat animals a serious threat to public
health, I needed to know if I should be worried about antibiotics when I eat meat. What should I be buying when it comes to
meat and poultry?
Here’s what I learned: By the time meat (beef, poultry, pork) and dairy products reach your plate, there are no antibiotics
present. If a farmer treats an animal with antibiotics, the farmer can’t use its meat or milk until after a set waiting
period, during which the antibiotics clear the animal’s system.
Concerns about treating animals with antibiotics—and hence the FDA’s recent recommendation for farmers raising animals for
food to limit the amount of antibiotics they administer—have more to do with the consequences of farmers’ increased
Using too many antibiotics is resulting in more antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals, says a 2008 review in The
Annual Review of Public Health. “Antibiotic-resistant pathogens in food-producing animals can be transferred to people
who handle or eat contaminated meat or milk,” says Siobhan DeLancey of the FDA. This means if someone is infected by an
antibiotic-resistant pathogen, drug treatment will be less effective. Antibiotics can also get into soil and water,
increasing our exposure and compromising their effectiveness.
Choosing meat and dairy labeled “USDA organic” or “certified humane” ensures
you’re buying products raised without antibiotics (Find
out what certified humane means here
.) You might also see the terms “no antibiotics administered” or “raised without
antibiotics,” but they’re not regulated. Lastly, follow good food-safety practices when handling meat.