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Antibiotic-free labelling 'very misleading'

31st Jan 2017 / By Alistair Driver

Antibiotic-free labels can be 'very misleading', the NPA has warned in a new briefing on the increasingly prominent topic. 

AB freeUse of labels such as 'antibiotic-free' and 'raised without antibiotics' to indicate to customers that their meat is safer and more ethical is growing in the foodservice industry, primarily in the United States.

"However the labels are very misleading," according to the NPA briefing, put together by senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford. 

"Labelling animal products as 'antibiotic-free' could imply other products, by default, contain antibiotics.

"In reality, all use of antibiotics in farm animals in the UK is strictly regulated and withdrawal periods are observed to avoid residues in meat and milk."

The full briefing can be viewed here

It stressed that antibiotics are vital for treating and controlling disease in animals.

But it adds: "The use of 'antibiotic-free' labelling perpetuates the myth that giving antibiotics to animals is bad and that meat without the label contains antibiotics.

"Farms supplying meat for these 'antibiotic-free' markets will undoubtedly still need to treat animals with antibiotics occasionally, when illness and injuries occur.

"Therefore, truly antibiotic-free animal production is not possible, nor ethical. NPA doubts that consumers would find it acceptable that ill or injured animals should be euthanised rather than receive antibiotic treatment, which would be the case if no market for treated livestock was available."

The briefing calls for the use of 'antibiotic-free', if it is continued, to be legally defined.

"For example, in the United States, it is primarily used to mean that the animals have been reared without the use of antibiotics for non-medical reasons, namely for growth promotion – a practice which has been banned in the EU since 2006.

"Banning or severely restricting the use of antibiotics in animals may negatively impact a veterinarian's ability to protect animal health and prevent suffering from disease, which can lead to poor animal welfare."