South Dakota farmers in a field with their cattle.

All You Need to Know About Antibiotics

Antibiotics can seem like a scary thing. More and more, we see labels on our foods saying “No Antibiotics” or “Antibiotic Free.” What is the scoop on antibiotics in meat products? Why do some farmers use antibiotics? Are foods without the “antibiotic-free” label safe to eat? Should you seek out foods with those labels? Read on for answers to those and other questions.

Why do farmers use antibiotics? Just like when we get medicine prescribed by a doctor when we’re under the weather, an animal may be given antibiotics when it’s sick. Certified veterinarians care for these animals and make sure they get the proper medical treatment. To allow for a full recovery and keep other animals from getting infected, the sick animal is removed from the herd and is sometimes treated with antibiotics.

Administering antibiotics to animals is not something farmers take lightly. Treating sick animals is expensive, and farmers make sure their animals are only given antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian, following strict guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Are foods without the “antibiotic-free” label safe to eat? Even after an animal has returned to health, the process of monitoring antibiotic use doesn’t end. To make sure these antibiotics are not present in our food, the animal cannot enter the food supply until the drug is no longer present in its system. The FDA enforces a strict withdrawal time specific to different types of animals.

Even before food hits the shelves, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control routinely test milk and meat to make sure producers are complying with the standards they have set. You can feel confident the food on your dinner table is safe to serve your family, with or without an “antibiotic-free” label.

Should I seek out foods with the “antibiotic-free” label? Now that you have the facts about antibiotics in meat products, the choice is completely up to you. Knowing that either choice is safe, you can rest assured that you’ll be making the right choice for you and your family.