Agricultural Myth 1: Antibiotics in Milk and Meat
Walking through the meat and dairy aisles in your local grocery store, you might notice a new trend in labeling:
“No Added Antibiotics”
“Raised Without Antibiotics”
“Grown Without Antibiotics”
There is a growing concern in the United States about antibiotic residue and its contribution to people becoming antibiotic resistant. But is there actually any link or correlation between those two?
During my sophomore year of college I was lucky enough to be part of a research project for the University of Idaho Animal and Veterinary Science Department. The project I was part of was studying the components of milk and how to safely and humanly increase the fat content. Because the University of Idaho is a land grant University, there are amazing opportunities for the College of Agriculture; the University has its own dairy. The research project that I was part of used cows from the University’s dairy. I grew up on a beef cattle ranch, so this opportunity was full of new experiences and a lot of learning. Everyday when we would bring the cows into the milking parlor, if there was a cow that was recently treated with any kind of antibiotic, the milk from that cow was immediately separated and then dumped out. My first day on the dairy, this was emphasized very sternly. There is a withdrawal time from when the cow is treated until the milk from that cow can be collected with the rest of the herd. This withdrawal time can be up to 96 hours. Why is this a big deal? The milk from each dairy is picked up in a big truck and combined with the milk from other dairies, from there it is taken to a processing center to turn into the products you buy at the grocery store. Before the milk enters the plant it is tested for any sign of antibiotics, hormones, or foreign substances. If there is any sign of these the milk is immediately discarded and the farm that contaminated the rest of the milk in that truck has to pay for the lost product.
Photo by Paul Hamilton is licensed by CC BY 2.0
As mentioned before, I grew up on a ranch with cattle for beef production. Sickness in cattle happens just like it does in humans. Sometimes animals can recover without medicine, but sometimes it is necessary to treat animals so they heal better and faster. Antibiotics are used in cattle only when necessary and only federally approved drugs are administered. I can recall many times when administering an antibiotic was completely necessary for the survival of an animal. It is so much better to treat the animal than to let it suffer. It is truly upsetting and frustrating seeing the claims there is antibiotics or antibiotic residue in meat and other animal products. Each individual antibiotic has a specific withdrawal time, it is written on the bottles. The withdrawal time for antibiotics for cattle for beef production can be up to sixty days. This withdrawal time can even be extended given the amount of drug administered, if there was a combination, or based upon where in the animal the antibiotic was administered. But if the farmer is selling these animals for profit, why would they care if the meat was free from antibiotic residue? If an animal goes to slaughter and then there is antibiotics detected still in the system, the farmer does not get the money from the animal, in many cases they also face harsh consequences.
Animals are treated with antibiotics when their well-being and health is at stake. However, the chance of their being any antibiotic residue in the animal products you purchase and consume? Pretty much impossible. Even though not all products are labelled “Antibiotic Free”, all products are. It seems companies are taking the public’s fears and turning them into marketing campaigns. The agricultural industry is a heavily regulated industry. There is a high amount of quality and health checks your food has to pass before it even reaches your house. Before you believe the hype from a current food marketing trend, look into the research, laws, and even reach out to a local farmer or rancher.