Should You Be Worried About Antibiotics When You Eat Meat?

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., "Ask Our Nutritionist," November/December 2010

If you heard that the FDA called the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in meat animals a serious threat to public health, you’re probably thinking: yes. But 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 have more to do with the consequences of farmers’ increased antibiotics use. 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, drug treatment will be less effective. Antibiotics can also get into soil and water, increasing our exposure and compromising their effectiveness.

Bottom line: Choosing meat and dairy labeled “certified humane” or “USDA organic” ensures you’re buying products raised without antibiotics. 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.

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