News Release

*Free* Antibiotics detected in antibiotic-free livestock underscore need for labeling policy reform

Reports and Proceedings

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

In a Policy Forum, Lance Price and colleagues argue that “raised without antibiotics” (RWA) labeling on consumer meat labels is not always accurate by showing that antibiotic-treated animals are making their way into the RWA supply chain. Their findings underscore the need for policy reform to ensure the integrity of RWA labeling claims. “Growing demand for RWA meats and poultry has the potential to curb antibiotic use in food-animal production; however, the integrity of the USDA’s RWA labels is being undermined by lax verification and enforcement,” write the authors. “Until either the USDA acts to rigorously verify RWA claims, or retailers eliminate their own safe harbor of ignorance, consumers should not rely on the accuracy of these labels.” Antibiotic-free meat and poultry is a rapidly growing market in the animal-food sector. However, RWA claims are not easily verified by individual consumers, who instead must rely on producers, retailers, third-party certifiers, or government regulators to ensure that such claims are valid. In the U.S. – one of the leading beef-producing and -exporting nations – RWA claims by producers must be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which provides credibility and value in the marketplace. But, according to the authors, the USDA does not require empirical antibiotic testing to validate RWA claims. To determine whether antibiotic-treated beef cattle are entering the RWA market, Price et al. tested for antibiotics in animals being slaughtered for the “No Antibiotics Ever” meat market and discovered evidence that some animals within the sampled feedlots had indeed been treated with antibiotics. The findings suggest that current RWA authorization and labeling lack integrity. To address this, the authors propose several policy reforms to better ensure RWA claims are truthful, including onsite USDA antibiotics testing and public disclosure of offenders.

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