Antibiotics are, by definition, “against life,” so it doesn’t make sense to eat them in our food, but most people do. The drugs are given to animals and even some farmed fish, so they appear on our plates in meat, poultry, some salmon and other fish, eggs, milk and other dairy products — but you can avoid them.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, about 70 percent of all antibiotics in this country are used in animal feed. Rather than treating infections, the drugs are used to promote growth and prevent inevitable infection among animals raised indoors in crowded, stressful conditions.
This widespread, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics promotes the development of resistant bugs. Often referred to as “superbugs,” these are especially dangerous because they have outsmarted our pharmaceuticals.
About half of the antibiotics added to animal feed are of the same types as those commonly prescribed for people. Consequently, there is a growing risk that when we need the drugs to fight an infection, they won’t work.
Ultimately, there is only one solution to the problem: Raise animals without antibiotics. A few years ago, the European Union banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. Will similar action be taken on this side of the pond? Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, it’s up to each one of us to protect ourselves and our families against resistant infections.
Make sure your doctor doesn’t unnecessarily prescribe antibiotics. And, choose antibiotic-free meats, fish, eggs, milk and other dairy products.How to Find Antibiotic-Free Food
Animals that are raised according to organic standards are not fed antibiotics, and their milk and eggs will also be free of the drugs. If you routinely eat cheese or butter, try to buy organic versions. Organic butter costs significantly more but some stores (Trader Joe’s, for example) have much lower prices than regular supermarkets. And, cheeses from the EU may be antibiotic-free.
Other options are meats, and eggs, that are not organic but were produced without antibiotics. Chickens that don’t meet all the organic requirements are often raised without the drugs and are a healthy option — with a lower price tag than organic ones.
Fish aren’t governed by organic rules but labels on packages or at the fish counter do provide useful information. Wild fish are just that — wild — so humans don’t feed them antibiotics or anything else. Farmed fish are trickier to understand.
Fish farming can be done with or without drugs. Unless a label clearly states that no antibiotics were given to the fish, the only way to tell is to ask before you buy. If a store doesn’t track that type of information, chances are good that antibiotics were used.Check Store Policies
Whole Foods Market sells only meat, poultry and fish without antibiotics, and describes its standards for each category of food in the Products section at www.wholefoodsmarket.com
. Although the chain’s meat prices are routinely higher than regular supermarkets, weekly specials and frozen fish won’t break your piggy bank.
Other stores sometimes have similar policies. These are most likely independently owned natural food markets and regional chains of supermarkets that endeavor to sell healthy food.
For listings of stores, farmers markets, family farms and restaurants that strive to provide naturally produced foods, check out www.eatwellguide.org
. Although each business doesn’t provide details about its food on the site, this is a useful starting point to learn more about antibiotic-free options in your neighborhood.