The “raised without antibiotics” claim on meat and poultry means that the animals were not given antibiotics in their feed, water or by injection. Choosing meat and poultry that is raised without antibiotics is an important step in helping address the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture performs a one-time review of a producer’s application for using the “raised without antibiotics” labeling claim, but requires no on-farm inspection or annual review. Eggs and dairy products, however, are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and it has no established definition for this label and does no verification.
Consumers should look for verified labels accompanying the “raised without antibiotics” claim.
Is the label verified?
Is the meaning of the label consistent?
Are the label standards publicly available?
Is information about the organization publicly available?
Is the organization free from conflict of interest?
Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
What this label means
Choosing animal products from animals raised without antibiotics is an important step consumers can take to help address the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance.
Meat and poultry. For the “raised without antibiotics” claim on meat and poultry labels, the USDA requires that source animals were not given antibiotics in their feed, water or by injection. This includes ionophores, which are recognized as antibiotics by the USDA (ionophores are antibiotics that are used only in animals, not in human medicine).
Dairy and eggs. For dairy product and egg labels, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), label approval is not required. The FDA has no regulatory definition for “raised without antibiotics” labels.
Why it matters
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause more than two million infections, killing at least 23,000 people. The rise of antibiotic resistance is driven by the overuse of antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics can occur in many settings--doctor’s offices and hospitals, for example -- but we cannot save antibiotics without meaningful changes to our food system, especially livestock and poultry production. This is because, in the U.S., the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production dwarfs their use in humans: about 80% of these drugs go to food animals.
In recent years, several companies that produce or sell meat and poultry have pledged to reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics. Consumers can support these livestock and poultry producers by choosing meat and poultry with a “raised without antibiotics” label.
How meaningful is this label?
Raising farm animals without antibiotics is an important practice to combat the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. However, as a label, “raised without antibiotics” on its own is not meaningful on dairy and eggs, and somewhat meaningful on meat and poultry.
On dairy products and eggs, the “raised without antibiotics” claim is not verified and there is no common regulatory definition, so the label is not meaningful on its own.
On meat and poultry products, producers can make the “raised without antibiotics” claim after submitting a one-time label application with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which includes required documentation to support the “raised without antibiotics” label claim. However, there is no requirement for on-farm inspections and no requirement for annual review or auditing of the producer’s records to ensure compliance.
Look for the following additional labels or seals.
There are several meaningful labels that also address antibiotic use in their standards. If you see any of these labels together with the “raised without antibiotics” label, you can have much more trust in the claim.