February 10, 2021
Blog Post

Know Where Your Food Comes From: Antibiotics & Hormones

When you see the terms “Antibiotic Free” or “No Added Hormones” on labels, your first thoughts might be: Are antibiotics and hormones really used in meat/dairy production? Why? And what do I need to know to make informed decisions?  

Antibiotics and added hormones have been used in the industry for decades. Through the years there have been regulations added around what animals can be administered them and how to reduce risk. Additionally, there are now USDA certifications which ensure the livestock was raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones.  

Overview of Antibiotics

Antibiotics are used by ranchers to help prevent and treat bacterial diseases in livestock. As a result, when animals are healthy during production they are happier, produce better food, and require less resources. Also, occasionally they are also used to promote growth in some animals through low doses in their feed.

Antibiotics can be administered to the following animals:
• Beef cattle
• Lamb
• Pork
• Poultry
• Goat
• Non-amenable species (such as bison and elk)

Furthermore, the use of antibiotics is heavily regulated regardless of any certification to reduce risk as much as possible. That means ranchers must allow a specific amount of time for antibiotics to pass through an animal’s system before production. The concern comes from when antibiotics are used incorrectly or excessively which can lead to an increase in resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria can cause consumers to get sick from foodborne infections and lead to illness in the livestock.  

Antibiotic Free Certifications

There are many terms to describe antibiotic free on product labels, including: ABF, No Antibiotics Ever, Never Given Antibiotics, ABF Verified, and Raised without Antibiotics. When you see these attributes along with the “USDA Processed Verified” label, it means that the livestock was raised without the use of antibiotics in their feed, water, or by injection.  

You may see the claim “raised with no sub-therapeutic antibiotics” on a product. That means that it isn’t certified under one of USDA labels above but the animal was not given antibiotics on a regular basis and only in the event of illness.  

Since these programs rely on healthy animals, they encourage humane treatment in order to reduce risk of injury or illness. This can include high-quality feed, more square footage per animal, non-slated flooring, and other humane practices.  

Overview of Added Hormones

Hormones are used to help young livestock gain weight, resulting in more meat faster. Additionally, they can increase the amount of milk dairy cows can produce, making added hormones attractive to ranchers and farmers.  

Added hormones are only allowed to be administered to the following animals: 
• Beef Cattle
• Lamb
• Pork

Synthetic estrogen and testosterone hormones are the most popular and were approved by the FDA in the 1950s. The FDA approves these drugs based on studies that show that the food from these treated livestock is safe to eat and doesn’t harm the animal or environment. However, additional recent studies and information conclude that there is a connection with added hormones and certain cancers. The concern comes from not knowing the levels of added hormone residues present in the end product.  

No Added Hormones Certifications

First, it’s important to note that there is no such thing as “Hormone Free” products. Hormones are naturally occurring in animals. However, the USDA regulated labels Raised without Added Hormones, No Added Hormones Administered, or RBGH-Free state that the livestock was not administered any added hormones.  

When you see one of these claims on a product that is not allowed to use added hormones determined by the USDA, like chicken, it must be followed by the statement, “There are no hormones approved for use in (kind of species) by Federal Regulations.”  

Additionally, when you purchase USDA certified organic meats you are supporting No Added Hormone and Antibiotic Free raising practices.  

While all these labels and regulations mean something a bit different from animal to animal, and even ranch to ranch, federal law requires that these labels include the certifier’s name and website address. To find more specific information and set of standards, visit that organization’s website or get to know where your meat and dairy comes from.