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Antibiotic Free Meat: A Food Trend Unchecked By Consumers, Beef Specialist Says

Niche markets, like gluten free and organic food, are becoming more popular - but experts are worried consumers aren’t “fact checking” claims about a new trend - antibiotic free meat. Animal scientists and producers are trying to regain lost ground on educating the public about their food.

Matthew Garcia, the beef specialist for the state of Utah, started a program for producers, agriculture teachers and animal scientists to help educate the public. One of the components of the program are small cards to hand out with information about things like antibiotics.

“The reason I wanted to start that program initially was because there are a lot of misconceptions about the beef cattle industry in general in terms of what we actually do, what’s actually in beef? Some of these advocacy groups have come out and said things that aren’t true,” Garcia said. “Our producers just say, ‘Oh, we know it’s not true.’”

Garcia said animal scientists haven’t done a very good job at educating the public, so the public is getting one source of information and it’s a source of information that’s inaccurate.

“The main thing we wanted people to know is that producers aren’t just giving them to animals just to give it to them,” Garcia said. “Antibiotics are expensive. Producers are actually trying to implement management schemes so that they don’t have to use antibiotics. The thing with antibiotics that people fail to recognize is if we don’t use them and an animal gets sick and an animal dies, there’s animal welfare issues there.”

Restaurants and grocery stores are advertising antibiotic-free meat, but Garcia said there is no scientific evidence to support that it’s a risk or better for your health. The reason why is because the meat without the expensive label doesn’t have antibiotics in it either.

“There’s a lot of regulations on antibiotic use,” Garcia said. “Every antibiotic has what we call ‘withdrawal’ time. If an animal gets an antibiotic injection or an antibiotic treatment, that animal cannot be harvested from 30 to 120 days in some instances. By the time that animal has gone into a harvest facility, it has metabolized that antibiotic, it’s no longer in the system.”

Garcia said there are USDA inspectors testing the carcasses for antibiotic residue. If that carcass tests positive for antibiotic residues, it’s condemned and will not be used.

Not only are there no nutritional benefits for antibiotic free beef, Garcia said prices are higher as well.

“Most of the smaller markets, those niche markets, have to charge more because as you decrease modern technology in your production system, usually your production costs go up,” Garcia said. “When those animals get sick, they’re not letting them die, they’re treating them with antibiotics, but then they’re marketing them conventionally. So then they have less animals to market in their niche system, obviously the price goes up in production.”

Garcia said he wants consumers to know there is a good knowledge base of people they can go to if they have questions about their food. He said just like our news, consumers need to go to the source.