Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Forward: “No Antibiotics Ever” Does Not Equate to Safer Meat

Last night I was watching my local NBC affiliate news. “You’ll want to hear what could be in your meat when we return,” caught my attention. It was a good 15 minutes before the story appeared (a tactic no doubt to get me to stay tuned – reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit many years ago). The segment was the health reporter repackaging a story released by Consumer Reports about antibiotic use in meat and food labels. I was very unhappy with what I saw and heard, so I just had to respond. This is what I sent to the reporter:

Hi, XXXX. I appreciate all of the health info you cover, but I was a little disappointed about tonight’s “Antibiotics in meat/superbugs” story that aired tonight. I think it was very misleading (wish I could refer back, but the video is not offered online - UPDATE it is not featured on the homepage, but I'm not sharing a bad story!).

While I don’t believe anyone can discredit that routine feeding of antibiotics to animals, as well as overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans contributes to resistance, my “take-a-way” from the story was that superbugs occurred in meat only from animals that were fed antibiotics any time in their lives. You led the viewers to believe that if they purchased meat that says “No antibiotics ever” or “Organic,” this would be a safer option.

I have talked to a local meat processor, and I learned that superbugs can be in any meat from anywhere, whether they were given antibiotics or not. But, I did not hear the Consumer Reports lady say they tested any meat and found superbugs. In fact, she didn’t say she tested meat at all. While contamination can occur, meat is routinely tested. This would have been an excellent opportunity to stress that all meat should be cooked to the recommended internal temperature. Food safety is critical. It would have also been helpful to relay that all animals must be antibiotic free when they arrive at the processor. USDA routinely checks this and removes any contaminated product they may find. In fact, they have stepped up their monitoring process.

I also noted the comment that routine antibiotics are given because of “unsanitary conditions”, another assumption. Have you ever visited a commercial poultry house? I have, and could not get over how much cleaner and less stinky it was than some more “natural” operations I have visited. (I have also now learned that routine antibiotic use is no longer industry practice - 40 years of industry experience offersopinion about antibiotic use in livestock.)

Lastly, I would like to encourage you to utilize the knowledge of our many Kentucky farmers for stories about food. Get a farmer’s perspective on why he or she may need to give antibiotics (I would be more inclined to eat a healthy animal than one that has been sick). Ask how antibiotic use has changed and how the livestock industry is addressing this issue. If you ever need help finding the farmers to talk to, I would be glad to put you in touch with them.

Here is a great post from John’s Custom Meats  – farm and meat processor in Bowling Green – that explains the issue at hand:

I hate thinking this story was a way to get people to stay tuned to the end of the broadcast. It got my attention, but I wish the story was covered from all sides. I’m afraid people will be led to believe certain meat products are safer, when in fact they are not.

Jennifer Elwell
Blog:  “Food, Mommy!”
Twitter @foodmommy

I was also able to call on Kentucky farmer and meat processor Amy of John’s Custom Meats to tell me more. She offered this:

FSIS (USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service) is revamping the residue testing program. There is a new (and more accurate...better) test available that they will be using. In addition, they are increasing the amount of testing being done.

Here's the link to the FSIS press release

Translation: This is a good thing! 
Description: new test method can test for a whole multitude of residues all from one sample. This will provide a more accurate baseline to zero in on the main problem residues. What will result from that is focusing in on the main problem areas and increasing sampling in those areas. Eventually, leading to the source of the issue or just finding there is no real issue to begin with.

NOTE: On Friday’s, I will select a topic that I feel was “forward worthy.” Find many more posts and articles I have forwarded on my Facebook Page - - or Twitter account (@foodmommy).

Speaking of encouraging news reporters to talk with farmers, I have to forward this post as well. Another farmer/blogger acquaintance Ryan Goodman has been a recent and popular fixture on CNN’s Eatocracy – No Bull: Start a Conversation with a Farmer 


  1. Thank you, Jennifer, for your balanced approach to food information! I am also working hard to feed my family of five teenaged kids who never get full. It is a challenge to find nutritious, healthy food that will energize them and keep them healthy.

    We rasie cattle, so a large portion of our diet is beef. I'm proud to raise the beef on the grocery store shelves and restaurant menus. I will not hesitate to treat a sick cow or calf with antibiotics if necessary, to minimize suffering and promote good health. "never ever" antibiotic programs are not realistic for every animal in every situation. And not necessary.

    Thanks for all you do to promote a conversation between people who grow the food and people who eat it!

  2. Well written report! I can't imagine not treating one of our calves if they get sick. There are so many misrepresentations of our food and how it is produced. You are doing a good thing for American Agriculture!

  3. I completely agree. A recent study by the University of Iowa found that MRSA levels were similar in pork from conventional and antibiotic free-farms.

  4. This is nice blog and unique information related to food.Thanks for sharing such information.Antibiotic medicines

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