5 Facts about Animal Antibiotics

By Khala Hurd June 9, 2021

Global Food


5 Facts about Animal Antibiotics

By Khala Hurd June 9, 2021

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

One of the biggest questions we get asked is if we should avoid animal antibiotics. Many consumers will only purchase meat with the “antibiotic-free” sticker on top. But are these stickers meaningful or just clever marketing? What are animal antibiotics, and are they in our food?

1. What are animal antibiotics?

When humans are sick, we go to the doctor, and he or she usually prescribes us an antibiotic to get better. The same is true for animals! Farmers give animals antibiotics when they’re sick because it’s simply inhumane not to.

2. Why do farmers give animals antibiotics?

We answered the first part of this question above. When animals are sick, they need antibiotics to get better, just like us. But, this also keeps the ill animal from passing an infection through the herd. Just like we don’t want to get others sick when we’re unwell, the same goes for animals.

Antibiotics are also given to support animal growth rates, meaning they’re provided routinely in feed or water to help the animals grow more quickly, getting them to us faster. This is because if the animal is not fighting off a sickness, then their bodies will spend their energy growing instead of trying to stay healthy.

3. If I don’t buy meat with the “antibiotic-free” sticker, am I eating antibiotics?

Absolutely not. The FDA has strict withdrawal guidelines that require all animals to be clear of any antibiotic residue before it’s harvested. They also regulate the maximum dosage of antibiotics based on type and weight. The U.S. National Residue Program tests for any chemical or drug residues and foodborne illnesses in all animal products, and this testing is consistent.

So, no, we don’t eat antibiotics. All animal products, including beef, chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, milk, and fish, are antibiotic-free by the time they get to the grocery store.

4. What happens if I eat animals treated with antibiotics?

Nothing. Nothing will happen because we are not eating antibiotics in any animal products ever. Many people think that if they eat meat without the “antibiotic-free” sticker, their bodies become resistant to the “antibiotics” in the meat. But, this is not true.

5. What about antibiotic resistance in farm animal production?

The FDA enacted a five-year plan to curtail antibiotic use in animals. It includes that no medically important antibiotics (meaning those that also treat human bacterial infections) can be used to treat animals for growth, and no medically important drugs, like penicillin, can be used to treat animals at all.

Many major food companies, restaurants, grocery stores, and food producers have also promised to reduce antibiotic use, especially for growth purposes. Research on animal gut health is also being done to minimize the need for antibiotics.

The Bottom Line

If your meat doesn’t have an “antibiotic-free” sticker on it, there’s no need to panic! Animals need antibiotics when they’re sick, and they are never in the food that we eat.