Note: This post was originally published on Meatingplace.com on 5/15/2014

By: Eric Mittenthal

The issue of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production is a common one in this space, highlighted recently by posts from Chef Michael Formichella and Richard Raymond. Chef Formichella’s blog was particularly interesting to me as it reiterated the importance of communicating about antibiotics in a way that is factual and not confusing for consumers. As I noted in my comment on that post, it is one of the most significant challenges we face in the industry today.

A new survey done by Harris Poll for the American Meat Institute (AMI) bears this out. Only four in ten Americans (41 percent) correctly answered “health professionals over-prescribing to people”  is the greatest contributing factor to human antibiotic resistance according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Four in ten consumers (39 percent) also think that unsafe levels of antibiotics are commonly present in the meat and poultry products found at the grocery store, though government data show that violative antibiotic residues in meat and poultry are virtually non-existent.  In 2011, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service screened meat and poultry for 128 chemicals, and 99 percent of the tested carcasses were free of all of them. This consumer survey data is similar to findings from Midan Marketing presented at the International Production and Processing Expo earlier this year which found  that when presented the statement, “By the time fresh meat is sold at the grocery store, there are no longer any antibiotics in it,” only 14 percent of consumers knew this was a true statement.

AMI is tackling confusion over the antibiotics issue in a few ways. First, we want to provide facts and science in an understandable, sharable way for the industry and consumers to use. To do that we’ve created a new referenced brochure called Antibiotics in Livestock & Poultry Production: Sort Fact From Fiction. The brochure has been reviewed by several academic experts, answers many of the common questions about antibiotic use in livestock and poultry production and addresses the myths as well. This brochure may be downloaded from www.MeatAMI.com or requested via mail by sending a self-addressed 4” x 5.5” envelope with .69 postage to Antibiotic Brochure, 1150 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC, 20036. AN HTML friendly version is forthcoming as well.

We know that facts and science are only part of the equation on antibiotic use, though. Words matter too, and far too often we see the issue being described inaccurately both in the media and within the industry. The primary example is use of the phrase “antibiotics in meat” or conversely “antibiotic-free meat.” Antibiotics, of course, are not used in meat, but in animals, and describing the issue in this way only leads to confusion over the difference between resistance and residues. To try counter some of the confusion, AMI created a Media Mythcrusher which addresses the top ten common myths we see in reporting on the issue. We will share it extensively with journalists, but it is up to all of us in the industry not to perpetuate these myths as well.

One of the other key findings in our survey was that 39 percent of consumers weren’t sure if unsafe levels of antibiotics are commonly present in the meat and poultry found at the grocery store. This shows we have an opportunity to better educate people on this complex and confusing topic. AMI is committed to this effort and we hope our resources will be used industrywide to help overcome the common misperceptions of the antibiotics issue.

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