Maybe a decade ago I was having a conversation with an acquaintance about the importance of consuming only meat that was free of hormones and antibiotics. My stance was fairly staunch, in that I felt the introduction of hormones and antibiotics into the food supply had the potential to wreak havoc on our bodies and environment. His response was something like, “A few extra antibiotics won’t hurt me…hell, and they might even keep me from getting sick” (he was relatively silent about hormones). Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. The introduction of antibiotics has been shown to beef up, not so much cattle, but drug-resistant viral strains and staph. Sure, the majority of meat being bought and sold out there today is still likely laden with antibiotics, but there is a growing interest, investment and enthusiasm for antibiotic-free meat products.
I have reported in the past about the fast food restaurant chain Chipotle and their gestures, as well as commitment, towards sustainable farming, and now comes word, courtesy of an NPR report, that Chipotle’s drive towards antibiotic-free pork has made the stuff, well, really trendy.
What used to be the domain of Whole Foods and farmer’s market shoppers is now being mainstreamed, at least somewhat. According to the report, demand for antibiotic-free meat is outstretching the supply. Beyond Chipotle’s commitment (which according to them includes the sale of 120 million pounds of naturally raised pork, chicken and beef that meets its antibiotic-free standards annually) and demand for the product, others, including Hyatt; institutional food providers such as Bon Appétit Management Co., which caters to schools and companies; and countless other consumers are paying a premium (usually about 30 percent more) for antibiotic-free meat that is perceived as being more pure than conventional meat. Longstanding concerns about the health and safety of using antibiotics in the food supply have moved the FDA to impose voluntary guidelines that recommend limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock.
While the distaste for antibiotics in our meat has seemingly eclipsed our concern over hormones in our meat, it should probably be seen as a bit of progress that we have come to a place where antibiotic-free meats are (somewhat) widely available. Is this progress or just marketing at work? Do you take care to always eat antibiotic-free animal products or do you feel a little bit here and there is perfectly safe?