In the United States, It’s common for livestock animals to be given extra antibiotics in an effort to promote growth or offset poor living conditions. But this misuse and overuse of drugs also promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bugs and puts everyone’s health at risk, says Sasha Stashwick, senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program.
“Whether you eat meat or not, you should be concerned,” she says. “The bacteria can end up on our food and even in the air and water supply.” As awareness of the problem increases, consumers are demanding change—and meat companies and retailers are responding. More grocery stores now carry meat raised without antibiotics, and even mainstream brands like Perdue and Tyson Foods are moving away from antibiotic use. Sales of chicken raised without antibiotics increased by 34 percent last year.
Beware of confusing labeling, however. “Antibiotic-free is an unregulated term,” Stashwick says, “so that phrase by itself is not necessarily a meaningful claim.” What to look for instead: meats that are USDA-certified organic or that include “No Antibiotics Ever” along with a “USDA Process Verified” seal on the package, which means the USDA has verified the company’s label claim.