What Do Those ‘No Antibiotics’ Labels Really Mean?


When you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping, you might see a label on your meat products that read “no growth-promoting antibiotics,” “no antibiotics ever,” or “raised without antibiotics.” It has even come as far as labeling restaurant brand food. But the question is, what do all these different versions of ‘no antibiotics’ mean?

We need to read these claims carefully. This has become a huge selling point for most supermarkets and restaurant brands. Consumer Reports conducted a survey of over 1,000 people which resulted in 43% say they always or often buy meat raised without antibiotics. Again, what does this mean? It means the antibiotics us people use, like amoxicillin, erythromycin, and tetracycline, are not given to animals during their growth period.


Ted Eytan / Flickr

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, shared her insight on the ‘no antibiotics’ trend. She said, “Some 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals—not people—in their feed or water, mostly to promote growth and/or prevent disease. And that’s a major contributor to the public health threat of antibiotic resistance, which is when the bacteria that cause infections become resistant to the effects of the drugs designed to kill them.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 20% of people sickened by antibiotic-resistant infections received the illness from something they ate. Coincidence?


Javier Rapoport / Flickr

The reason why these claims are so important and must be read carefully is because many of them are worded as the animals were never given antibiotics at all, when in reality they were. It’s just a fancy saying some companies are using now to increase sales, which is putting the public’s health at risk. So, what do all of these different labels mean?


Not giving any antibiotics of any kind to any animals raised for meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs ultimately ends up with the ‘organic’ label provided by the requirements being met of the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA).

Raised Without Antibiotics

This phrase and other related terms essentially mean that no antibiotics were provided in the raising of the animal. Sick animals are removed from the ‘no antibiotic’ line. Producers do send documentation to the USDA, but there are no actual inspections.

theimpulsivebuy / Flickr

No Medically Important Antibiotics

This means antibiotics specifically used to treat people were not given to the animals. This is still an issue, giving way to antibiotics that aren’t medically important being given to animals. This can lead to antibiotic resistance to additional drugs. Many fast food restaurants, including Sonic, eliminate medically important antibiotics, but may still use them for disease prevention.

No Critically Important Antibiotics

This is an important one. This means that the company has only stopped using some of the medically important antibiotics used to treat people. Thankfully, most of these labels are not used in production.

StickerGiant Custom Stickers & Labels / Flickr

No Growth-Promoting Antibiotics

This means that no antibiotics were given to the animals to speed up growth. The Food and Drug Administration clearly states that medically important antibiotics can no longer be used for growth promotion, but all products can be used to prevent illness. As a result, this is only a slight improvement over the rest.


In conclusion, the drugs should only be given to animals when they’re sick, period. This preserves the effectiveness of antibiotics for people and poses less of a health risk for the public consumers.

Wesley Fryer / Flickr

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