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Buy beef raised without overusing antibiotics for your next summer barbecue


Monte Bottens pictured above at Grateful Graze Ranch

Summer barbecue season is in full swing across America. When you head out to buy the burgers for your next get together, consider supporting ranchers who raise their livestock without overusing antibiotics. There’s a good chance that the beef you typically buy at the grocery store, unless it’s specifically labeled otherwise, comes from cattle dosed with antibiotics to compensate for the unsanitary, overcrowded, and stressful living conditions common to animals raised on feedlot based farms. That meat may be cheaper than beef raised under better conditions, but it carries a significant cost that doesn’t ring up at the cash register – overusing antibiotics makes these crucial, often lifesaving drugs less effective for when we truly need them. Estimates suggest that as many as 162,000 Americans die annually from drug-resistant infections. Overusing antibiotics is a problem in human healthcare, but nearly two-thirds of the medically important antibiotics sold in the United States don’t go to that purpose; rather, they’re sold for meat production. When meat producers use the drugs routinely on large numbers of animals at a time, it breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can infect people through direct contact with animals or raw meat, or from water runoff and other environmental factors. The good news is you, the consumer, can spur change. Due to customer demand, the vast majority of chicken producers in the U.S. have stopped overusing antibiotics, and many don’t use the drugs at all. The same is starting to happen in the U.S. beef industry, albeit much more slowly than it did in chicken. In response to consumer pressure, some of the top fast food companies have committed to phasing routine use of medically important antibiotics out of their beef supply chains over the coming years. Those restaurant chains include Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s – the single largest purchaser of beef in the United States. In 2018, McDonald’s promised to set targets for reducing antibiotic use across much of its massive global beef supply chain. At the time, public health advocates praised this commitment as a major step forward for preserving antibiotics. Unfortunately, McDonald’s failed to meet its own deadline for setting those reduction targets at the end of 2020 and it has yet to follow through. That large-scale action is even more urgent now that we have a fuller picture of the scope of antibiotic resistance across the world and McDonald’s is facing pressure on several fronts to improve the farming practices in its supply chain. Conventional beef production is dominated by a few major packing companies that dictate how cattle should be raised. That makes it a difficult industry to change for the better, but it’s not impossible. One way to make it happen is to vote with your wallet. Buy beef from ranchers who only use antibiotics to treat sick animals, and urge major companies such as McDonald’s to reduce antibiotic use in the beef they buy. You can find ranchers who raise their animals without overusing antibiotics at Eatwild.com, and keep an eye out in the grocery store for products labeled as grass fed, organic, or raised without antibiotics. This small change in your beef purchasing can make a big difference for public health. Co-authored by, Matthew Wellington, Public Health Campaigns Director at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund Monte Bottens, Grateful Graze

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