About 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are used in meat production (source), in which livestock, poultry and even farmed fish are routinely given antibiotics to increase their growth and to compensate for crowded and unsanitary conditions that can promote infection (source).
While treating sick animals with antibiotics as needed can make sense, the routine, subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in raising animals contributes significantly to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (source), with large-scale operations posing the greatest risk. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a significant, and increasing threat to public health worldwide (source).
It’s industry routine to use antibiotics in large-scale production of beef, poultry and pork; however, though legal, it is not industry standard to use antibiotics in lamb and bison production.
About two-thirds of cattle are treated with hormones to increase their growth and meat production (source). Beef treated with hormones has more estrogenic activity than beef from cows that aren’t treated with hormones, but keep in mind that that activity is relatively small in comparison to strongly estrogenic foods like soy. The use of hormones leaves some scientists and doctors concerned about the potential increased risk for cancer (source).
By law, hormone treatment is not used in poultry, pork or bison and it is not industry standard to use them in the production of lamb, either.
While growth hormones are not permitted for use in pork, the use of ractopamine, a beta antagonist, is a common feed additive. Ractopamine increases the building of lean muscle mass. Ractopamine has been banned in most countries, but remains in use in the US, Canada and South Korea.
Studies on the impact ractopamine-laced meat has to human health are very limited, but many scientists have recommended against the use of ractopamine, and drugs like it out of concern that it is potentially hazardous to human health (source). The drug is also used in cattle and turkey production.
What to Look for Instead
If you’re keen to avoid meat from animals treated with antibiotics, hormones or other drugs and feed additives like ractopamine, try opting first for meat produced locally on farms and ranches that raise their animals on grass and pasture. You can find these farmers through your farmers market, online, and through directories like EatWild.com or Local Harvest.
If you’re buying meat at the grocery store, look for meat that is labeled as having been raised without the use antibiotics or hormones. I’ve worked with Applegate for a number of years, and their meat is always raised without the use of antibiotics, hormones or ractopamine, and their beef is grass-fed, and they’re a good choice when it comes to lunch meats, deli meats, bacon and hot dogs. You can find a store near you that carries their meats by clicking here.
You can also make the choice to buy meats labeled as organic, as hormones, antibiotics and other drugs are not permitted in organic meat production.
If you’re eating out at a restaurant, try to find one focused on farm-to-table cooking that discloses their source farms. Alternatively, stick with a vegetarian option, wild-caught fish (use this tool to find sustainable seafood options) or choose bison and lamb as they’re not routinely given antibiotics, hormones or other drugs.