Should consumers insist on "antibiotic free" meat?

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With the media coverage on Panera and Chipotle regarding their preference for using "antibiotic free" meat, an associate professor at Iowa State University questioned the difference between the two products.

Dr. Scott Hurd, associate professor at Iowa State University, addressed the topic on his blog earlier this month. Dr. Hurd questioned if there was a difference, other than price, between conventional meat and antibiotic-free meat in regards to food safety.

From his post earlier this month titled, “Is antibiotic free really healthier?” Dr. Hurd addressed whether antibiotics, referred to as residues, are in the meat consumers eat. Due to the withdrawal period leading up to slaughter, Hurd says no illegal residues remain in the animal’s system at processing, leaving virtually no traces of antibiotics in U.S. meat.

Base on a previous article, Hurd says risk assessment articles show no significant risk to public health from on-farm use of antibiotics, leaving the cost of the retail product to be the primary difference.

Additionally, those antibiotic-free animals may pose a greater risk to human health as marginally healthy animals without visible symptoms could carry higher levels of bacteria, increasing the risk of a foodborne illness.

Read more from the blog.

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Hays  |  August, 21, 2013 at 09:02 AM

It doesn't matter what some industry scientist says. If consumers want something, they should be able to insist upon it. That is the right of the consumer. Industry should respond. End of story, something you failed to mention.

Iowa  |  August, 21, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Actually, it's not that simple. If consumers want something AND are willing and able to pay the price for it, then someone MAY choose to provide it. I can want purple apples all day, and I suspect that given enough time and some genetic tweaking, someone could produce one, but it would probably cost far more than I could possibly pay and someone would almost certainly decide there were easier ways to make a living than to deliver it. No one is obligated to produce something in a manner they know to be inefficient or feel is unethical just because someone, somewhere wants to buy it. If you want to go get in line behind Chipotle and Panera and compete for highly-priced never-given-antibiotic meat, no one is stopping you.

Ohio  |  August, 21, 2013 at 09:29 AM

Beef is one thing but pork and chicken are another. All chickens have coccidia and any pigs exposed to dirt have internal parasites. The products to control these internal parasites are legally classified as antibiotics. So you can not use them to produce antibiotic free meat. So you infect the pigs and chickens with internal parasites but refuse to treat them. Kind of inhumane. Of course since consumers cannot see it, they do not care. Nor do they understand. So would you like an order of internal parasites with your next Chipotle burrito?

August, 21, 2013 at 09:50 AM

That's the "modern" consumer for you -- demands to pay more for pork from muddy pigs stunted by pneumonia and riddled with parasites. And who cares about the cruelty of depriving a sick animal effective medical treatment -- out of sight, out of mind and the consumer doesn't care to know. These "modern" consumers must be throwbacks to the dark ages. No thanks, I will enjoy professionally grown meat that's humanely produced with the finest technology available. The Luddites are not entitled to deprive livestock of proper care, no matter how radically they insist upon it. They also are not entitled to force their loopy opinions upon us, either.

Ca  |  August, 21, 2013 at 12:50 PM

I find it interesting and question where Chipotle really stands on their anti-biotic free meat products. I was in one of their stores a few weeks ago and they had a sign posted that due to the high demand for natural beef/anti-biotic free beef, that this particular store could not get any at the moment and they were using traditional beef product. I guess there stance on anti-biotic free beef only goes as far as how much much they can make, they did not stop serving beef that week to stand up for their stance on anti-biotic beef. Its all about marketing and money for these two business's, not what the consumers want.

Aimee Hachigian    
Ulm, Montana  |  August, 21, 2013 at 06:34 PM

It all comes down to knowing your producer. We finish our own steers and market locker beef direct to the consumer, raised without antibiotics. We treat specific illnesses with antibiotics, but those animals go into the commodity market after recommended withdrawal times. We do not feed subtherapeutic antibiotics. It takes a vigilant total herd health program with a rigid vaccination program while in close association with our veterinarian to make it work and antibiotics are rarely needed as a result. Our customers tell us that they can taste the difference in side by side comparisons with beef from animals treated with antibiotics. The premium market is there and we are happy to service it.

Iowa  |  August, 22, 2013 at 09:01 AM

Antibiotic-free, vegetarianism, etc., is a religion. Let it go. If there is a congregation that wants it so be it.

Batavia, NY  |  August, 22, 2013 at 05:08 PM

These people think they can tell the difference between beef from an animal that was treated with an antibiotic and one that is "antibiotic free"? We are supposed to actually believe this? Can they tell the difference in taste if an animal was vaccinated? If not, why not?? I tell you what I can tell the difference in taste of. "Organic" milk and regular milk. That organic stuff tastes like it should be fed to the pigs, not sold for human consumption.

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