The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced its plans to strengthen the verification process for antibiotic-free labels on meat and poultry products. This decision comes in response to petitions challenging the current process, which critics argue lacks rigor.
Various consumer, food safety, and environmental groups have long cautioned against the excessive use of antibiotics in livestock farming due to its potential contribution to antibiotic resistance in humans. In 2017, the World Health Organization recommended that the food industry reduce antibiotic use to combat resistance.
The USDA aims to enhance its existing guidelines for products labeled as “raised without antibiotics.” The updated process will require that meat bearing this label must originate from animals that have not been administered antibiotics in their feed, water, or through injections.
The agency plans to implement cattle sampling, screening for antibiotic residues, to ensure compliance with the label claims.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the importance of consumer trust in product labeling, stating, “Consumers should be able to trust that the label claims they see on products bearing the USDA mark of inspection are truthful and accurate.”
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), responsible for overseeing meat labeling, intends to revise its guidelines to encourage companies to seek third-party certification for their label claims. The agency last updated these guidelines in 2019.
According to a 2022 study conducted by the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, 42% of cattle raised in feedlots claiming to be antibiotic-free tested positive for antibiotic residues.
Lance B. Price, the center’s founder, stressed that consumers pay a premium for “raised without antibiotics” products and should receive the quality they expect.
Thomas Gremillion, the Consumer Federation of America’s food policy director, expressed his support for the USDA’s announcement but indicated that his organization would continue to advocate for a more transparent approval process for meat and poultry labels.
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