"Antibiotic-Free" is a phrase the USDA specifically says it has not authorized, so don't trust it.
Antibiotics used to prevent bacteria in meat are increasingly ineffective and the government should ban their use, Consumer Reports has argued. Because the bacteria are killed with proper cooking, there’s no reason to help them become a greater health risk.
“Since approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by the meat and poultry industry to make animals grow faster or to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions, both supermarkets and consumers can have a major impact on this problem through their purchasing decisions,” CR says.
In new research that examined 136 grocery stores in 23 states, the magazine has found that consumers have a lot of antibiotic-free options. Here’s what it found:
- Some stores have many options. Whole Foods guarantees that all its meat and poultry is never treated with antibiotics. Giant, Hannaford, Shaw’s, and Stop & Shop also have a wide selection of meat raised without antibiotics.
- Some have none. CR’s shoppers couldn’t find any antibiotic-free meat at Sam’s Club, Food 4 Less, Food Lion, or Save-A-Lot.
- It’s not necessarily more expensive. When the national average price for chicken breasts was $3.17 per pound, CR found antibiotic-free chicken at QFC for $2.99 per pound and at Whole Foods (on sale) for $1.99 per pound. “The least expensive products without antibiotics were whole chickens at Publix and Jewel-Osco, and chicken drumsticks at several Trader Joe’s locations, all for $1.29 per pound,” CR says.
- Labels are often confusing. Products labeled “USDA Organic” are trustworthy because they are verified by independent accredited certifiers. “USDA Process Verified” is also good alongside claims that no antibiotics were given, added or administered — wording varies — because it means the company paid to have the agency verify the claims it makes. “Natural” means the final product has no artificial ingredients or coloring, but by itself says nothing about antibiotics.
- Some labels are misleading. “Antibiotic-Free” is a phrase the USDA specifically says it has not authorized, so don’t trust it. “No Antibiotic Residues” could mean the animal received antibiotics up until the last few weeks of its life, and isn’t a USDA-approved claim. “No Antibiotic Growth Promotants” could mean the animal received antibiotics to prevent disease, and isn’t a USDA-approved claim.
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