As kids return to school this September, discussions of school lunch nutrition leave me thinking that the best option, really, to ensure children receive healthy lunches is by packing them at home. A sandwich, some fruits and veggies, a healthy treat: that’s what I got in my lunch box way back when, and that’s what I'd want my kids to eat, too.
But when I think ‘healthy,’ I’m not just considering the nutrition label – I’m thinking about long-term health, as well. That’s why it’s so important to me that I buy meat raised without routine antibiotics.
Why worry about the use of antibiotics on poultry and livestock? In a word, superbugs; the quick-and-dirty word for antibiotic-resistant infections, which are increasingly on the rise. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and World Health organization have both warned that quite soon, these infections could kill more people than cancer.
Let’s jump back: what does this have to do with meat? The good news is, it’s not necessarily the meat itself that’s the problem. Rather, it’s the practices we use to raise that meat.
As antibiotics are being overused (in no small part on factory farms, where drug are given daily to animals which are not sick), bacteria become resistant. That means that when these “superbug” bacteria infect us, common treatments simply don’t work; the bug is immune to that drug. Now, we’re losing our ability to treat diseases, and approaching what scientists and doctors are calling the “post-antibiotic era.” A time when, once again, our now-common illnesses, injuries, and procedures could prove deadly.
Ok, that was scary. The good news is that we can stop this. And we can do it with our shopping lists. By supporting only meat that was raised without unnecessary antibiotics, we can push the industry to change.
Not sure where to start? That’s what the following guide is for.
Know where to start
For the most part, you can find meat raised without routine antibiotics at your local grocery store. Below is a list of grocery stores and the raised-responsibly brands they carry.
Ahold USA (Giant, Martin’s, Peapod, Stop & Shop) - Nature’s Promise
Costco – Kirkland
Delhaize (Bloom, Bottom Dollar, Food Lion, Hannaford, Harveys, Sweetbay) – Nature’s Place
Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P, Food Basics, Food Emporium, Pathmark, SuperFresh, Waldbaum’s) – Green Way and Mid-Atlantic Country Farms
H-e-B (Central Market, H-e-B, H-e-B Plus) - H-e-B Natural
Kroger (Baker’s, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Gerbes, JayC, King Soopers, Kroger, Owen’s, pay Less, QFC, Ralphs, Scott’s, Smith’s) - Simple Truth
Safeway (Carrs, Dominick’s, genuardi’s, pavilions, Randalls, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Vons) - Open Nature and O Organics
Supervalu (acme, albertsons, Cub, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher’s, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Save-a-Lot, Shaw’s/Star Market, Shop ‘n Save, Shoppers) - Wild Harvest Natural
Publix – GreenWise
Trader Joe’s - Trader Joe’s All-Natural and Trader Joe’s Organic
Wegmans – all meat and poultry
Whole Foods Market – Food You Feel Good About
No matter where you buy them, these producers offer the meat listed raised without routine antibiotics.
Applegate – Beef, pork, poultry
Bell & Evans – Poultry
Coleman (Perdue) – Poultry
Estancia Beef – Beef
Evol Foods – Beef, pork, poultry
FreeBird – Poultry
Harvestlland (Perdue) – Poultry
Luvo – Beef, chicken, turkey
MamaMancini’s – Beef and turkey meatballs
Meyer Natural Angus – Beef
Miller Poultry – Poultry
Murray’s – Poultry
Niman Ranch – Beef, lamb, pork
Ranch Foods Direct – Beef
Redbird Chicken – Poultry
Saffron Road – Chicken, lamb
Springer Mountain Farms – Chicken
Thousand Hills Cattle Co. – Beef
White Oak Pastures – Beef, chicken, lamb
That’s a start, but it isn’t always clear. Unsure? Look at Labels.
You can find meat raised without routine antibiotics, but you have to know what to look for. Labels can be misleading.
The USDA’s organic rules prohibit antibiotic use on livestock and must be verified on-site by an independent accredited certifier. So, you can feel confident that any meat or poultry labeled “USDA Organic” comes from animals that never have been given any antibiotics.
Organic + Grassfed
“Grassfed” labels, usually found on beef, can be useful if they are coupled with the “organic” label. Animals raised organically must have been raised without antibiotics. If “grassfed” appears alone, however, antibiotics might have been given.
No Antibiotics Administered, Raised Without Antibiotics, and variations
Many variations, such as "No antibiotics added" or "Never ever given antibiotics." This labeling is helpful but most reliable when accompanied by a "USDA Process Verified" shield. However, backing by a private certifier, such as Global Animal Partnership for Whole Foods' meat, is equally reliable.
“Natural” may sound as good, but it doesn’t indicate anything about antibiotics. Unless the label explicitly says otherwise, antibiotics might have been used in raising “natural” meat and poultry. According to the USDA, “natural” means only that the final product doesn’t contain artificial ingredients or added color and is minimally processed. So, while "natural" is approved by the USDA, it is not a meaningful statement about antibiotics use.
The USDA specifically says it never authorizes the use of “antibiotic-free,” so this claim has no clear or consistent meaning in the marketplace and should not appear on packaging. Via: greenerchoices.org
No Antibiotic Residues
This is not a USDA-approved claim and only indicates that antibiotics residue levels in the final product fall below Food and Drug Administration tolerance thresholds. This label does not mean no drugs were used in the animal’s life.
No Antibiotics for Growth Promotion
This claim is not approved by the USDA. Even though an animal may not have been given antibiotics for growth promotion, it still could have received them on a daily basis to prevent disease, which is the main use for the drugs in crowded growing facilities.
Grassfed, Free-range, Cage-free, Pasture-raised etc.
Alone, labels regarding how an animal was confined does not indicate much about whether or not an animal received unnecessary antibiotics.
Of course, you’re probably also considering the cost.
Meat and poultry raised without antibiotics doesn’t have to be expensive. While prices vary among stores, types, and cuts of meat, in some cases meat raised without antibiotics can cost less than the national average. Virtually all of the “no antibiotics” chicken, turkey, and pork products found by Consumer Report shoppers in their 2012 study were priced under $10 per pound. Some meat raised without antibiotics could be found at virtually every chain where such meat is available at under $5 per pound.
But there is also more to it than the money in your wallet: if you can spare the extra couple dollars, consider the long-term health savings of helping prevent one of the greatest public health threats of our time. No one wants to catch a superbug. And to be sure, buying meat raised without routine antibiotics can’t guarantee you won’t. But it is in your power to pack long-term health and safety into your child’s lunchbox.
This blog has been adapted from the original, posted here: http://uspirg.org/blogs/blog/usp/buying-guide-meat-raised-without-routin...
 Consumer Reports – Greener Choices, available online: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/06/antibiotics-are-widely-used-b...
 Consumer Reports (2012) Meat on Drugs available online: https://www.consumerreports.org/content/dam/cro/news_articles/health/CR%...