Why Be Wary Of The “No Antibiotics” Labels Found On Beef?


Researchers who have looked into the issue claim that greater oversight is required to make sure that label claims are claiming the truth. That’s because their research findings suggest otherwise and that the “Raised Without Antibiotics” label is in need of integrity.

You may have been brought to believe that spending a little more for beef raised without antibiotics, then it’s time to think again because you may not be getting your money’s worth. A new analysis has been made and researchers found that 15 percent of cattle raised and slaughtered for the “Raised Without Antibiotics” marketplace tested otherwise. Many of them were positive for at least one antibiotic.

“‘Raised Without Antibiotics’ [RWA] and related claims are absolute, meaning antibiotics should never have been administered to the animals intended for the RWA market,” shared Laura Rogers, the deputy director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, DC. She is also the coauthor of the study that was published April 7 in Science. “This is disappointing to say the least. This is an important label claim, and consumers should have confidence in it,” she explained.


Overusing of Antibiotics Could Pose a Threat to Global Health

They have used antibiotics in healthy animals. This poses a health concern; overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animals is why they’ve also developed antibiotic resistance. This is why the World Health Organization (WHO) considers this as one of the many big threats to global health and food security.

More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections happen in the U.S. per year. This brings about a total of more than 35,000 deaths. The figures were released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).The CDC is a big supporter of “judicious use of antibiotics in people and animals, including the important work that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are doing to improve antibiotic use in veterinary medicine and agriculture.”

In an effort to control the use of antibiotics, they mandated documentation from food producers. This is for agencies to look into the approval of labels such as “No Antibiotics Ever (NAE)” or “Raised Without Antibiotics.” With a stamp on its label, either will mean that the source animal never got antibiotics. This was according to the agency.


Findings Suggest That RWA Labels Lack Integrity

In order to make sure that the labels made were placed accurately, researchers gathered urine samples from a total of 699 beef cattle from 312 lots and 33 different Raised Without Antibiotics–certified feed yards that were set in place for the Raised Without Antibiotics marketplace.

From the study made, the Investigators discovered that 42 percent of feed yards had at least one animal test positive with antibiotics. The lots with at least one positive test was a representation of around 15 percent of the Raised Without Antibiotics cattle processed. This was taken during the study period. There were also several feed yards that met the standard. This was either all or most of the time. However, in three of the feed yards, every cattle had  tested positive for antibiotics.

The findings of the study show that the Raised Without Antibiotics label was short in integrity, according to the authors. “People ask me all the time what they can do to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in meat production. For years, I’ve been telling them to buy products labeled Raised Without Antibiotics,” said a coauthor, Lance B. Price, PhD, in a press release. He is a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington Public Health. He added, “I’m disappointed to see that these promises aren’t always true.”

“The good news is that while we found 15 percent of the cattle positive, we also found 85 percent were not,” said Rogers. “This means that the majority of producers are following the rules, but we need to get that number from 85 to 100 percent,” she stated.


Label Reform Is Much Required to Make Sure Claims Are Accurate

According to the authors of the study, there are strong incentives for meat producers to circumvent or avoid regulations altogether that would be quite simple for the USDA to implement. “The USDA should establish a rigorous verification system to ensure that RWA claims are truthful and accurate, or they should cease approving these labels,” they had written.

They offer some suggestions for the USDA on how they could make sure that the label claims on the meat are always clear-cut and precise.

  • The USDA needs to check or require continuous on-site empirical testing for the presence of antibiotics on a substantial number of cattle from every lot that has been chosen for processing.
  • The agency needs to utilize sensitive, real-time technology that is able to point out animals that have been given antibiotics. This would be better than depending on the not-so-accurate maximum residue limits of antibiotics that are found only after the slaughter.
  • Animals from lots that have tested positive for antibiotics need to be rerouted. They can still be sold, but they head straight to the conventional type of food market.
  • Positive lots need to be tracked and published. They are placed on a list or a public ledger. For those who are considered repeat offenders, they need to be removed from the list of those who supply animals for RWA programs. That is, until they can demonstrate how they’ve taken crucial measures to eliminate concealed use of antibiotic.

“We hope consumers will use their powerful voices and call for reforming the labels,” explained Rogers.


Tips to Use When Purchasing Meat Raised Without the Use of Antibiotics

There are also other labels out there aside from RWA that have been designed to give guarantee that the meat purchased was raised with antibiotics. Consumer Reports gives the following tips to buyers: 

  1. Choose meat with a “Certified Organic” label.This seal means that the cattle was raised without the use of antibiotics. Moreover, the farms and processing facilities have been inspected at least once in that year.
  2. Buy products and look for the “Process Verified” label.You may see that this label is more commonly used for poultry rather than beef, food producers who want this certification means that they need to be in agreement with both the administrative audits and on-site inspections.