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Antibiotics in Meat

Ranchers and farmers feed antibiotics in a daily low dose to their livestock. It’s not to stop them from getting sick, but to make them gain weight.

But many doctors and researchers suspect that this practice is contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, posing a serious danger to our health:

  • A 2001 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 84% of the Salmonella bacteria in supermarket ground beef were resistant to some antibiotics.
  • Another study in 2002 suggested that some people caught resistant strains of Salmonella from eating pork that had been fed the antibiotic ciprofloxacin.
  • The FDA estimates that use of antibiotics in chickens directly led to 11,000 people catching intestinal illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 1999.

Partly because of these findings, several major fast food chains have refused to buy chicken treated with ciprofloxacin or similar antibiotics. Other companies continue to buy and sell antibiotic-treated meat, though.

There’s no easy way to know if the meat you buy was raised with antibiotic feed. Companies aren’t obligated to label their meat, or to provide consumers with the information.

“The best way to do that is to look for organic products, or to buy locally,” says Minowa. “If you have a direct relationship with the farmer raising your food, you can just ask them.”

Reduce Residues: Buy Local or Organic

Buying from local farmers’ markets gets you the freshest produce possible. It also makes your food “greener” by reducing the wasted fuel, pollution, and greenhouse gases created by long-haul shipping.

“By buying local, you also have the ability to ask the farmer which pesticides he or she used on the crop as it was grown,” says Gillman.

“Organic” is a term that’s regulated by the USDA. Organic produce can’t be treated with conventional pesticides, and must be grown in nearly pesticide-free soil. For these reasons, organic fruits and vegetables have much lower pesticide residues.

To be sold as organic, livestock must meet several criteria:

  • They are fed only organic, vegetarian feed. They may not be fed meat from other slaughtered animals (a common component of conventional livestock feed).
  • They are not treated with any antibiotics or hormones.
  • The meat is not treated with radiation.
  • They are raised under conditions that allow exercise and access to the outdoors.

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