May 20, 2022

Beef ‘without antibiotics’ tests positive, study finds

April 8, 2022

Some of the beef cattle in an antibiotic-free program tested positive for antibiotics, which could call into question the ‘raised without antibiotics’ label on the products, according to a new study in Science.

Most of the cattle in the study – around 85% – tested negative for the antibiotics. However, 10% came from batches where at least one cow tested positive, and a further 5% came from batches with multiple positive tests.

“These results provide empirical evidence that a significant portion of beef products currently marketed with [raised without antibiotics] the tags are from cattle treated with antibiotics,” the study authors wrote.

Researchers from George Washington University’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center and Food In-Depth, a food testing company, tested the urine of nearly 700 cows at an abattoir that processes livestock. raised without antibiotics. All cattle were part of an “antibiotic-free” program, with a subset produced under the Global Animal Partnership program, an animal welfare assessment program initiated and used by Whole Foods.

Using a rapid test that screens for 17 commonly administered antibiotics in feed and water, the research team sampled animals from each batch of cattle delivered for processing at the slaughterhouse for seven months. They tested animals from 312 lots and 33 different feedlots, representing about 38,000 cattle or 12% of US beef production raised without antibiotics during the study period.

Researchers found that three feedlots had multiple batches in which all samples tested positive for antibiotics, and four feedlots all had positive samples in a single batch. Additionally, seven feedlots had a positive sample in more than one lot, and 14 had at least one positive animal test.

Overall, batches with at least one positive test represented approximately 15% of cattle raised without antibiotics treated at the slaughterhouse over the seven months. About 26% of cattle slated for the Global Animal Partnership program came from a batch with at least one positive test.

“These findings suggest that today’s RWA labels lack integrity,” the study authors wrote. “Although our testing has been limited to beef cattle, other meat and poultry sectors are vulnerable to similar incentives.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for monitoring antibiotic use and verifying label claims such as “raised without antibiotics,” according to The Washington Post. A USDA spokesperson told the newspaper that the agency was eager to take a closer look at the study to determine next steps, but said “there is no indication in the study that the meat tested is unfit for consumption”.

The Global Animal Partnership program is also reviewing the results, the newspaper reported.

“It’s difficult to determine the extent of the problem, whether it’s really systemic or whether we have a few bad apples,” said Anne Malleau, the program’s chief executive. The Washington Post.

Whole Foods also said it remained committed to its promise not to contain antibiotics in its beef, Spencer Taylor, the company’s senior sustainability adviser, told the newspaper.

“We have thoroughly reviewed the information made available to us and have no reason to believe that the cattle tested in this study ended up in products in our stores,” Taylor said. “We take compliance very seriously and never hesitate to act if a supplier fails to meet our rigorous quality standards.”

The study authors recommended several policy reforms, including a rigorous USDA verification system to ensure that “raised without antibiotics” claims are accurate.

Under the current system, the USDA designation of “raised without antibiotics” can only go to producers who sign an affidavit and submit documents to support their claims, the newspaper reported. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services verifies the documentation provided with label requests and may remove the label if there is evidence that the claims are inaccurate.

At the same time, the USDA is testing “maximum residue limits” that focus on levels of antibiotics that pose a danger to human health, rather than zero antibiotics, the newspaper reported.

“For meaningful verification, the USDA should perform or require ongoing empirical on-site testing for antibiotics on a significant number of animals from each lot delivered for processing,” the study authors wrote.

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