USDA Launches Antibiotic Sampling Program

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced in September that it had launched a new exploratory sampling program to assess the accuracy of “no antibiotic” marketing claims for beef products. The common practice of administering antibiotics to intensively confined farmed animals to promote growth and ward off (rather than treat) illness in crowded, stressful environs is a major concern because it promotes resistance to antibiotic drugs—including those critical for treating serious human diseases—and kills gut bacteria that are beneficial to animal health.

To implement the program, FSIS inspectors will collect liver and kidney samples from cattle carcasses in slaughter plants whose products bear claims such as “raised without antibiotics,” “no antibiotics ever,” and “no antibiotics added.” The samples will be analyzed for the presence of more than 180 different antibiotics. If drug residues are detected, the FSIS will issue a letter to the slaughter plant, instructing it to take corrective measures. Depending on the results of the sampling program, the FSIS may start requiring slaughter establishments to submit lab test results to substantiate such claims, or it may implement a longer-term verification program.

The announcement follows on the heels of a new report by the World Organisation for Animal Health indicating that global use of antimicrobial drugs declined by 13 percent over the three-year period from 2017 to 2019 (the latest data analyzed). While this is a positive trend, one of the report’s authors warned that more work remains to be done: In 2019 alone, more than 4 million human deaths were attributable to antimicrobial resistance.