Special Report

Antibiotics in Foods: Everything You Need to Know

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Antibiotics sales are decreasing

Before the new regulations in 2017, sales of medically important antibiotics for use in food animals were already decreasing. They dropped 33% between 2016 and 2017.

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Organic milk regulations

Organic milk comes from cows never treated with antibiotics. If an organic milk cow gets sick enough to require antibiotic treatment, its milk may no longer be used by the organic farm. The cow is usually treated and then permanently removed from the organic herd.

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There may still be antibiotic residues in milk

Despite regulations and testing, antibiotic residues may still exist in some foods. A June 2019 study of purchased half-gallons of milk published by Cambridge University Press showed that of the organic milk samples tested, none contained traces of antibiotics. But 26%-60% of the conventional milk samples purchased tested positive for various antibiotics, including drugs that have been prohibited for use in dairy cows. Several samples showed residue levels above federal limits.

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A national monitoring system helps track antibiotic resistance

In 1996, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) was established. NARMS tracks changes in bacteria, specifically related to antimicrobial resistance, in meats, food-producing livestock, and humans.

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Antibiotics use allowed to prevent disease in healthy animals

Although farmers can no longer feed their livestock antibiotics for growth promotion, they can still feed them preventive doses to counter the illnesses that are common in close living quarters, such as feedlots.