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The Dangers of Giving Antibiotics to Livestock

The Dangers of Giving Antibiotics to Livestock

Thursday, 3 December 2015 12:03:00 Europe/London

We all enjoy a nice succulent cut of farm raised meat, whether it be beef, lamb or pork but with the mass production of meat in the market, how do we know that what we are eating and buying from the supermarket is good for us?

Here at Tom Hixson, we recommend buying your meat from a recognised and trusted butcher as the best way to purchase your produce, but the majority of the UK population still purchase their meat products from the supermarket. 

This growing trend and the general quality of mass produced meat has caused a concern in the meat industry and with the recent reports/news articles highlighting the danger of the quality control of meat produce from around the world we thought it was a good idea to cover this topic in greater detail.

 Recent reports and media coverage have highlighted the growing concern of antibiotic use within animal’s that have been bred for consumption. This growing trend is having an adverse effect on the world’s population in relation to antibiotic resistance, which is a massive concern in world health.

So why is meat being blamed? How can eating meat make you ill? Is it true that the farming community feed antibiotics to their livestock as a daily practice? And more importantly how can we as an industry body ensure that the meat we sell is antibiotic free?

Firstly, we will address the burning question “what is antibiotic resistance”.

What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide problem.  

In simplistic terms, it is when your body becomes resistant to antibiotics prescribed for to treat bacterial infections. 

Antibiotics have been around for a long time and people are starting to become immune to the traditional ones. This is a constant battle and micro biologists are in the process of developing new drugs constantly to minimise the effect. 

It was thought that this resistance is from the over supply of antibiotics by medical professions throughout a person’s life, where the body becomes immune to this form of antibiotic treatment for bacterial illnesses and diseases. 

However, it has recently been documented that the high use of antibiotics used to historically treat human infections have started to be used more frequently in the farming industry, which is a massive concern for the growth in antibiotic resistance globally.

In the early 2000’s a study was carried out by the New England Journal of Medicine who were researching cases of Samonella in patients from the consumption of pork. The study showed that the Salmonella present in the patients was unresponsive to the traditional antibiotic treatment ( a US drug called Cipro, known in the UK as ciprofloxacin) and therefore it was recommended that pigs no longer be administered the antibiotic to ensure that the bacteria is not resistant to this form of bacterial infection.

These cases are very concerning as our body can now potentially become infected with an un-treatable bacteria through the use of human medication in farm animals. 

Why Are Antibiotics Given To Livestock?

Farm animals are traditionally administered antibiotics for treatment of infection and prevention. However, unlike humans where one person is usually treated, this is not the case in farm bred animals. If one animal is ill or likely to become ill the whole selection of livestock are given the same course of antibiotics.

This is concerning as healthy animals are now being given antibiotics which they do not need.

A shocking statistic by NRDC noted that 80% of all antibiotics in the US are used for livestock and poultry. That would mean that a lot of the products for sale in the US market are arriving on the plate that have been pumped full of antibiotics.

The other murkier area of antibiotic usage in livestock is animals being given this medication for growth purposes and to be sold for a higher market value. This is called “sub therapeutic” use within the industry.

Why Are Antibiotics Being Used For Growth Development in The Meat Market?

Many years ago ranchers and farmers discovered that by feeding antibiotics to their livestock daily, these animals would gain as much as 3% more bodyweight than they normally would. To increase their growth levels many ranches across the US regularly mix antibiotics in the food and water supply of their animals in order to increase their muscle mass and to encourage growth. 

The reason they do this? Simple, more money. 

The more muscle and fat content that is present in the loin of the animal the more tender and succulent and meat will be. As the farming and cattle industry is a competitive market, many farmers are forced to feed their cattle and other livestock antibiotics to ensure their cuts of meat are tender and therefore more likely to be sold at a higher market price.

This practice although unethical is not illegal and many farms carry out this feeding pattern throughout the US market. 

However, the use of sub-therapeutic treatment of antibiotics in animals bred for consumption has been banned for sale in the European Market. 

How Is Eating Meat Spreading The Risk Of Antibiotic Resistance?

The constant dosing of animals with these types of human consumption antibiotics cause bacteria present in the livestock to remain untreated as their body has grown as immunity to the antibiotics. This can be very harmful for us as the eating public who by eating meat that is not properly cooked, we can become infected with a bacterial infection that is unresponsive to its traditional form of antibiotics (i.e. salmonella).  

Therefore, eating meat from your supermarket or other suppliers that is not organic and has been pumped with antibiotic growth hormones has a high risk of containing harmful antibiotic resistant bacteria that cannot be easily treated.

This is why antibiotic usage in the farming industry must be stopped and organic meat production will have to be the way forward. 

How To Stop The Risk Of Antibiotic Resistance Though Meat Consumption

As stated above many countries in the European Union and Canada have banned the use of antibiotics to stimulate growth in livestock.

The main culprit for providing meat that has been antibiotic farmed is the USA, where the majority of antibiotics consumed in the country are used for this purpose.  

This is why the best butchers and sellers of US meat only sell organic farmed USDA quality products. The stringent checks at all levels of production by the United States Department of Agriculture ensures that only the highest quality and prime grade meat are exported to the international market for sale.

How Can I Be Sure The Meat I Am Eating Is Safe?

To protect yourself from consuming meat that may have been fed or injected with antibiotics, it is best to follow the best practice steps below: 

  • Make sure you buy organic or grain fed meats or poultry (although be careful as some animals fed on a grain diet would have had antibiotic medicines added to their food, or given to them to treat sickness caused by being on a grain-fed diet).
  • Buy grass fed meat where possible (especially with beef)
  • Check the label (find out where it is from and the quality grade)
  • Only buy your meat from a reputable butcher 
  • Don’t just buy supermarket meat – if you do make sure your meat comes from outside the USA
  • Buy high quality USDA grade beef – always look for the USDA stamp
  • Cook your meat thoroughly – even with beef make sure it is cooked through before consumption
  • Buy British beef– buying your meat from a sustainable clean source that supports the domestic industry


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