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Live Healthy, Atlanta! Thought Leader

The Shift Back to Antibiotic-Free Meat

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

This is part three of a four-part series on food and nutrition. Read the earlier installments here and here

This month, I’ve written about the benefits of cooking at home and the importance of whole, unprocessed ingredients. This week, I’m discussing a food that’s so well loved, entire diets revolve around its heavy consumption. A food that, thousands of years ago, made possible our large brains and bigger, stronger bodies, but is linked to heart disease and cancer in the modern age.

Meat is well loved by Americans. The majority of us have at least one serving of meat every day, far more than we require. Our appetite for meat has led to an industry designed to maximize output, often at the cost of quality, animal welfare and the environment.

Sourcing food for the table is a simple errand today, not the daylong affair it was a century ago. Children aren’t sent to the yard to hunt for individual eggs, they’re sent to the dairy aisle for a carton of twelve!

Meat, butchered and wrapped in plastic, is the closest most of us ever get to a cow, pig or chicken. The shift in food production made life easier, but left us with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about the journey from farm to table. In recent years, consumers, scientists and political advocates have worked to improve meat production, quality and sustainability.

Although there are many ways in which meat production could be changed for the better, one of the most pressing health issues facing us today is the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Antibiotics are fed to animals for the side effect they create: faster growing, plumper animals. Since the 1970s, health officials and scientists have known that the other, less fortunate side effect of widespread administration of antibiotics is the rise of “superbugs.” Superbugs, or infections that cannot be treated with antibiotics, have risen rapidly and in conjunction with the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. Two million Americans are sickened every year thanks to these types of infections. Of those, 23,000 die of infections antibiotics cannot cure.

In December of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration made a major policy change, announcing that over the next three years, indiscriminate use of antibiotics will be phased out. Farmers will no longer be allowed to feed animals a low dose of antibiotics to promote growth, and will have to obtain a prescription from a veterinarian to access antibiotics.

Before the FDA’s ban, as consumers became more knowledgeable about the dangers, a growing number of packaged meats touted “No antibiotics – ever!” If the FDA wasn’t concerned, consumers were beginning to be. Perhaps that concern was the impetus behind an Atlanta-based fast-food giant’s recent decision: Chic-fil-A announced last week that in the next five years, all 1,800 restaurants will transition to antibiotic-free meat. (Chic-fil-A joins Chipotle and Panera Bread in their goal of antibiotic-free meat.)

Whether or not the FDA’s ban on antibiotics will prove strong enough to significantly curb antibiotic use in animal feed remains to be seen. Critics have serious – and not unfounded – concerns. As always, our best option as consumers is to vote with our dollars! Some farmers and companies are voluntarily shifting away from antibiotic shortcuts for growth. Support those providers by buying their products over the competition’s. It’s a small contribution, but a contribution nonetheless, to the health of our families and our nation.


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