Drugs in meat? Not so. Farmers and ranchers work with veterinarians and animal nutritionists in order to protect the health of their animals and the health of consumers.

Myth: Drugs in meat including, growth hormones in cattle and antibiotics are overused in order to make them grow bigger and faster. It’s not good for the animals or for consumer food safety.

You may be concerned about how drugs you have heard of, such as growth hormones in cattle and antibiotics, are used on today’s farms and ranches and whether this means there are drugs in meat.

The Facts: Farmers and ranchers are committed to working with veterinarians and nutritionists to make the right decisions about the care and development of their animals. That includes the targeted use of antibiotics to treat sick animals or keep animals healthy. Also growth promotants such as growth hormones in cattle or feed additives like beta-agonists can help cattle convert the nutrients in their feed to lean muscle. Farmers and ranchers use these tested and proven tools carefully and in compliance with stringent safe use policies set and enforced by the government.

Final Checks and Balances 8 21 13

Is the use of growth hormones in cattle safe?

  • Farmers and ranchers have been safely using growth hormones in cattle since the 1950s, and during this time have been heavily studied.
    • These supplemental growth hormones in cattle continue to be used in the United States, Canada and many other developed countries because studies have shown they pose no risk to consumers.
    • Farmers and ranchers primarily administer these growth hormones in cattle through small slow release pellet that is placed in the ear of the animal.
    • All drugs used in food animals are extensively tested and monitored. And each new product must go through dozens of studies before approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
      • If approved, they are continuously monitored and must be re-evaluated annually. They only remain on the market if they continue to be proven safe.
      • The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) routinely tests meat to ensure its safety according to standards set by FDA.

What are beta-agonists?

Beta-agonists are FDA-approved animal feed ingredients that help improve the conversion of dietary nutrients into lean muscle instead of fat (ractopamine and zilpaterol are examples of beta agonists approved for use in cattle).

Farmers and ranchers use beta-agonists in targeted ways, including low doses in the diets of certain animals at specific times in their lives. Beta-agonists are water soluble, meaning they cannot be stored in the body for long and are eliminated quickly.

Everything that is done on farms and ranches must use a combination of sound science and decades of experience caring for animals. Anne Burkholder, a feedyard owner from Nebraska, works closely with her veterinarian and nutritionist to use safe and approved technologies in addition to continuously reviewing research and her personal experience to determine effectiveness and the best way to care for her animals.

In addition to the United States, beta-agonists are approved for use in many other countries across the developed world. Even the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standards body that was developed in-part by the World Health Organization, has recognized the safety of beta-agonists.

Beta-agonists are not hormones and do not have antibacterial properties like antibiotics; they are strictly a feed additive that improves the conversion of nutrients to lean muscle instead of fat.

How are antibiotics used in cattle?

Antibiotics are medications that fight bacterial infections. They are used in cattle to prevent, control and treat disease. These drugs are very important to ensuring animal health and experts agree their use has contributed to improved food safety over the years.

  • Farmers and ranchers recognize antibiotics must be used carefully in order to preserve their future effectiveness for our families and our animals.
  • Farmers and ranchers avoid using antibiotics that are important to human medicine and have invested in research and education programs designed to help us continuously improve how we use antibiotics.
  • Farmers and ranchers have no reason to overuse antibiotics but rather every reason to use them as selectively as possible. For one, it’s the law, but antibiotics also are a costly input for the small business men and women who raise cattle for beef.

Learn more about antibiotics in cattle here on Facts About Beef.

You can also learn more about growth hormones and antibiotics in food on the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Food Source website.

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