USA, Washington. Researchers at the George Washington University (GW) question the integrity of the USDA label for cattle in the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ program and call on the USDA and retailers to strengthen verification and enforcement.
According to a study published in the magazine Science, the GW researchers found that a substantial portion of cattle destined for the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ (RWA) market had been given antibiotics.
Lance B. Price, founder and co-director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University, Laura Rogers, Deputy Director of Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at GW, and Kevin Lo, CEO of Food In-Depth authored the study.
The team obtained urine samples from beef cattle being slaughtered for the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ marketplace. They tested nearly 700 cattle from 312 lots and 33 different ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ certified feedyards. They found that 42% of feedyards had at least one animal test positive. Lots with at least one positive test represented approximately 15% of the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ cattle processed during the study period.
Thus, the researchers questioned the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ labels integrity. “People ask me all the time what they can do to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in meat production. For years, I’ve been telling them to buy products labelled ‘Raised without Antibiotics’. I’m disappointed to see that these promises aren’t always true,” Price said. “The good news is that the majority of producers appear to be doing it right.”
The research team found strong incentives to cheat on a set of claims that were relatively easy to confirm. While USDA approval gives these labels credibility and value in the marketplace, the agency did not mandate empirical testing to validate them, the researchers criticised.
“The USDA, retailers and restaurants have the tools to ensure the integrity of these important labels. Consumers are paying real money for these claims, they should get what they pay for,” Lo said.
‘Raised without Antibiotics’ production is a market-based solution to a serious public health issue, but the system only works if labels are verified. Therefore, the authors called on the USDA and retailers to strengthen verification and enforcement.
“Growing demand for ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ meats and poultry has the potential to curb antibiotic use in food-animal production,” Price said and added, “until either the USDA acts to rigorously verify these claims or retailers eliminate their safe harbour of ignorance, consumers should not rely on the accuracy of these labels. My hope is that consumers and advocacy groups will pressure the USDA to reform these important label claims.”
Source: George Washington University