When shopping at grocery stores, you have likely seen labels advertising antibiotic and hormone free milk and meat. These products often have higher prices as they offer a “cleaner” source of nutrition, but are there really enough differences to justify the cost?
The truth is that these labels are just a way to get consumers to pay more money for the same quality of product.
First, let’s look at the “hormone free” claims:
Technically speaking, all animal products contain hormones. The difference lies in whether these hormones are naturally occurring or added to improve production. This means that the label can be quite misleading.
To help clear up this confusion, the USDA allows meat to be labeled as “Raised Without Hormones” rather than “Hormone Free.” The Food and Drug Administration has strict rules regulating hormone use. This involves prohibiting the use of any added hormones in pork and poultry. These products are then eligible to be labeled with “Raised Without Hormones,” even though all products of this kind have naturally occurring hormones.
The label also must contain a statement informing the consumer that added hormones cannot be used in pork or poultry. Strategic placement can still be used to mislead consumers. This is done by putting the disclaimer about hormones in much smaller text, in a place where it is less likely to be seen, while making the “Raised Without Hormones” claim as eye catching as possible.
In beef and sheep production, hormones are often used, but not without regulations from the FDA. Each edible tissue is ensured to have an amount of hormones below the safe level before the product can be sold.
Using hormones increases the efficiency of a product and is well regulated to protect consumers. We should allow ranchers to use this resource in order to create a better food source at a lower cost.
Now let’s look at the “Antibiotic Free” claims:
In animal operations, low doses of antibiotics are often fed to livestock in order to keep them healthy and help them grow. This will increase the overall health of the herd and prevent animals from facing an illness that would often be undetectable to their human caretakers. In other operations where this method is not used, animals are only given antibiotics when they become ill. There are also farms that claim to never use antibiotics in their products.
The FDA has rules in place to help protect consumers from potentially harmful drugs being found in meat. Before slaughter, an animal has to not be treated for a certain period of time, to make sure that the drugs are out of their system. These withdrawal dates vary; some are just a couple days, where others can be several weeks.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) then tests the meat for a variety of drugs, making sure that they are below the safe level. If they are not, violators will be reported and proper action will be taken.
Antibiotic residues left are at a level that has been tested to make sure it is safe. In fact, tests show that they are commonly well below the level that would harm humans. In recent years, there have been only a handful of violations, and any meat found to contain an unsafe amount of antibiotics is removed from the food chain.
Agriculturists are being tasked with feeding an increasing world population while using less farmland. To do this, all our resources will need to be utilized. This means allowing ranchers to use methods of production that increase efficiency, but still deliver a safe and healthy product to consumers.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.