A significant portion of cattle supposedly raised without antibiotics showed traces of antibiotics when they were examined in a study recently reported in Science magazine.
Researchers from the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center and Food In-Depth tested cattle that were being raised under an FDA-approved “No Antibiotics Ever” regime. Researchers tested the urine of 699 animals in 312 feedlots in 33 feedyards over a seven-month period.
Three of the feedyards had several lots in which all urine samples tested positive for antibiotics, while four had all samples test positive in a single lot. Lots with at least one positive test represented about 15% of the raised-without-antibiotics (RWA) cattle processed at the slaughter facility fed by the feedyards.
Antibiotics are often used on cattle, especially when they’re crowded together in feedlots, to ward off infection. Meat raised without antibiotics can be sold at a premium.
“These findings suggest that today’s RWA labels lack integrity,” the authors say. “Although our testing was limited to beef cattle, other meat and poultry sectors are vulnerable to similar incentives [to cheat].” They recommend testing reform “with robust standards and public disclosure” for RWA claims.