In the US, farmed animals are routinely fed antibiotics to promote their growth. Antibiotics are an integral tool of factory farming.
When farmed animals get sick they should get treatment including antibiotics, but drugs shouldn’t be used as a crutch to compensate for unsanitary living conditions. The crowded conditions of immunocompromised animals on factory farms are a breeding ground for pathogens, and to ensure that sick animals grow quickly and stay alive until slaughter, they are routinely fed antibiotics, even when they are not sick. This continuous “subtherapeutic” dose of these lifesaving drugs leads to antibiotic-resistant infections, the “superbugs” which are now a leading cause of death in humans worldwide. Antimicrobial resistance was associated with nearly 5 million deaths in 2019, and predicted to grow to 10 million deaths annually by 20501—more people than currently die from cancer. The World Health Organization calls antimicrobial resistance “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.”
Because subtherapeutic antibiotics prop up an agricultural system based on crowding sick, immunocompromised animals together, they also indirectly contribute to the emergence of novel viral pathogens like influenzas (flus) and coronaviruses that have the potential to cause human pandemics.
A few retailers seek to appeal to conscientious consumers and market some of their meat as “antibiotic free.” Antibiotic-free meat can cost consumers 20 percent more than conventional meat, and surveys show 75 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for it. Unfortunately, claims of “antibiotic free” may not always be true. In 2022, Farm Forward joined a consumer class action lawsuit against Whole Foods, alleging that the retailer deceived customers about certain products in its stores marketed as “antibiotic free.” An independent laboratory found antibiotic residue in “antibiotic free” meat purchased from a California Whole Foods store. Learn more about antibiotics, and help Farm Forward build a future free of factory farms.