About Antibiotics in Meat


It is not a secret that for the cultivation of farm animals antibiotics are used. Usually, antibiotics in meat industry are used to prevent bacterial infections. However, antibiotics have been used quite often for stimulation of a rapid growth of animals in these latter days.

Meat producers mix antibiotics with animal food and water or apply them directly to the skin of animals. Such measures are taken at the initial stage of animal breeding. New antibiotics allow to grow healthy animals very quickly.

Preventive measures against bacterial infections cannot ensure you get a healthy and harmless meat. Thus, specialists keep finding high amount of antibiotics in meat of some manufacturers.

This happens because meat producers misuse the drugs. Often in animal husbandry, antibiotics are used in doses exceeding maximum allowable values. Changing the dose regimen and using high doses of antibiotics lead to that harmful bacteria start mutating, becoming resistant to antibiotics. As a result, bacteria keep living and multiplying in animals’ bodies. In the end, meat containing both bacteria and antibiotics hits the shelves, and after all that, people buy and eat the infected meat. So, one reasonable question arises: «How dangerous are bacteria and antibiotics in this meat?».

In fact, people can be infected with some resistant bacteria from products of meat industry, and that’s not the only problem. The human body becomes less and less resistant to infections (immunity), if it constantly receives micro doses of antibiotic drugs.

Everybody knows that drugs to fight bacterial infections may cause side effects. Antibiotics in meat are found in minimal doses, but this amount is enough to provoke allergy and other adverse reactions.

How do we get rid of bacteria and antibiotics in meat, milk or eggs?

A significant part of meat, produced by large agricultural companies, contains bacteria resistant to antibiotics and other medications. Typically, bacteria are neutralized during cooking process and thus they are not dangerous for people’s health. A long-term heat treatment kills all pathogen microorganisms in meat products. However, those who prefer raw meat dishes or rare beefsteaks are at high risk of infection. If we use high doses of antibiotics to prevent diseases in poultry and animals, then active pharmaceutical ingredients will be accumulated in meat, milk or eggs. It is not so difficult to remove antibiotics from meat, but it takes time. If you boil meat for about 30-60 minutes, then all the antibiotics are left in the broth.

To certain types of antibiotics (for instance, Tetracycline) can completely disappear from eggs or milk, you need to boil them at least for 30 minutes. Frankly, you will hardly find a person, who is patient enough to wait that long to remove antibiotics from chicken meat, eggs or milk.

To learn what kind of antibiotic and how much of it is found in meat products, people use some advanced methods of determining of antibiotics in meat. These methods are used in laboratory or home environment. If you want to check meat, egg or milk for the presence of antibiotics, just buy some express tests. Such tests are easy to use and do not require special equipment. New express tests can show the result in 5 minutes. Using these tests, you can detect the conformity of products with sanitary norms and standards.

Legislative control

The market of animal antibiotics is quite large, increasing every year. Medical studies have established a connection between the increasing number of antibiotics used in cattle breeding and the growing number of people, who had suffered from consumption of meat containing resistant bacteria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted some trials, confirming a negative impact of antibiotics on cattle breeding. The WHO recommended to reduce or to stop using antibiotics for a fast growth of animals. This applies to antibiotics, which are used for treatment of humans in the first place. Most national health controlling authorities developed a special system to control the sales of antibiotics in cattle breeding industry. These measures allowed to reduce the amount of antibiotics or other drugs in meat.The FDA (USA) has prohibited a free use of some antibiotics, growth stimulants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory products (for example, Flunixin meglumine). The FDA cooperates with national meat manufacturers and farms, controlling the approved or recommended amount of antibiotics in meat.

If you want to buy meat that does not contain antibiotics, be prepared to pay higher price for it. This is due to the fact that production of meat without antibiotics requires more time and money. Today, less than 10% of such meat products are presented on the USA market, but this number increases every year.

Although the price of meat without antibiotics is quite high, specialists believe that it will steadily decrease. The social pressure and high demand on uninfected meat force the manufacturers to refuse from using antibiotics little by little. The competition and increase in the production volumes allow to reduce the price of meat without antibiotics.

Actually, meat industry is unimaginable without antibiotics. Animals, as well as people are prone to infectious diseases that require timely treatment (including antibacterial therapy). Meat manufacturers can use advanced technologies, but they must take full responsibility for safety of their products and health of potential consumers.

Should I be concerned about antibiotics in the meat I serve my child?

Most experts say it’s unlikely that you or your child will be harmed in the immediate future by the practice of giving antibiotics to livestock. Strict federal limits and industry regulations ensure that very little, if any, of the antibiotics given to animals make it to your table. But overusing antibiotics in livestock is something that you should be concerned about because of the potential threat to public health.

Many farmers who raise cows, chickens, and other livestock use antibiotics to treat animals that are sick or at a high risk of becoming sick. But some critics believe the industry relies too heavily on antibiotics to fatten livestock and to compensate for unsanitary and crowded conditions in industrial-size farms – despite guidelines for antibiotic use, which specify that the medication be used judiciously.

How can people be affected by the antibiotics that farmers use for animals?

The main concern isn’t that the antibiotics will be transferred to you or your child, but that they will increase the antibiotic resistance of bacteria that we all encounter. Experts warn that there are already many strains of bacteria that no longer respond to antibiotics.Just as taking antibiotics unnecessarily contributes to increased resistance in some strains of bacteria, overusing antibiotics in agriculture is contributing to the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics. The more an antibiotic is used, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant to it.

Also, if too little antibiotic is used (as is often the case when antibiotics are used on healthy animals), it won’t kill all the bacteria – and the survivors can grow and multiply into resistant strains.Some of these bacteria can spread to humans when proper handling and cooking procedures aren’t followed. Bacteria can be consumed in meat that hasn’t been heated to the proper temperature before serving, for example. And campylobacter (a bacteria found in the intestines of chickens) can be spread by handling raw chicken and not washing up afterward.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the antibiotic fluoroquinolone in chickens, bacteria resistant to that drug began showing up in humans.Antibiotics have even been found in vegetables grown in soil that was treated with animal manure. In a study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), scientists at the University of Minnesota found that corn, lettuce, and potatoes grown in soil that had been spread with animal manure containing the veterinary antibiotic sulfamethazine also contained the antibiotic. Sulfamethazine is commonly used to treat bacterial diseases and promote growth in poultry, pigs, sheep, and cattle.

In addition to the dangers of ingesting the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it’s also possible for drug-resistant bacteria to transfer their genetic material to other bacteria. This means that if you consume a harmless “bug” carrying a resistance-causing gene, that gene could be passed to a more harmful form of bacteria that’s already in your body, making it antibiotic resistant.

There’s no way for researchers to figure out how often this happens to people. But David Wallinga, a senior scientist at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a nonprofit food, agriculture, and trade group based in Minneapolis, reports that the CDC has “compelling evidence that people are contracting infections from resistant bugs at increasing rates that we can trace back to antibiotic use in animals.”The American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Public Health Association, and the American College of Preventive Medicine have all taken a stance against giving antibiotics to animals that aren’t sick. The FDA has also urged people who raise animals to restrict the use of antibiotics to treating sick animals, not to promoting growth or preventing illnesses.

If farmers cut back on antibiotics, won’t more animals get illnesses like foot-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease?

No. Neither foot-and-mouth disease nor mad cow disease is treated with antibiotics. But improving living conditions, without routinely using antibiotics, can prevent many of the diseases that animals contract.

Is “free-range” poultry raised without antibiotics?

It may be, but there’s no guarantee. Only organic poultry products and those labeled “no antibiotics added” are guaranteed to come from animals that haven’t been given antibiotics.

“Free-range,” as defined by the USDA, simply means that the birds have “been allowed access” to the outdoors. Consumers who are concerned about the humane treatment of farm animals support the free-range method, though debate continues about its definition.Nothing in the standards for free-range labeling prohibits use of preventive antibiotics, so unless the label specifically states that the product has been raised without the use of antibiotics, there’s no way to tell whether these drugs have been used.When it comes to eggs, the nutritional content of regular eggs and eggs from free-range hens is the same, although the free-range eggs tend to be more expensive.

Food cooperatives often know the source of their products, so if you’d like to make sure the eggs you buy are free-range, your local food co-op (or farmers’ market) is probably the best bet.

What about organic meat and poultry?

Meat certified as organic comes from animals raised without antibiotics, hormones, or any other drugs or chemicals typically used in industrial agriculture. These products are becoming easier to find as demand increases. You can find them at many natural food stores, butcher shops, and even some supermarkets.Also, more and more food producers sell organic meat directly to consumers online or by phone. Farmers at smaller operations who raise animals without antibiotics or other drugs sell meat directly from their farm.

While buying certified organic meat and poultry is one way to ensure that what you eat contains no hormones or antibiotics, some companies offer brands that are not certified organic but that are hormone- and antibiotic-free.

Keep in mind that the label “natural” doesn’t guarantee anything except that a product is minimally processed. You’ll want to look for labels that specifically state “no hormones” and “no antibiotics.”

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