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OVERALL RATING
Poor

Claim: No Antibiotics

OVERALL RATING
Main benefits: Reducing antibiotic use in animals benefits public health. However, on its own, this claim isn't adequately verified.
Limitations: Weak verification requirements. • No standard definition for dairy and eggs. • Doesn't address the use of other drugs, such as hormones.
Overview: Animals raised for meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs may be given antibiotics for disease prevention, a practice that contributes to the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. Choosing "no antibiotics" versions of those foods is one way to minimize that threat. But as a stand-alone claim on a food label, "no antibiotics" (and related claims, such as "raised without antibiotics" and "no antibiotics ever") gets a poor rating because its meaning is not consistent across different foods and because verification requirements are weak. However, a "no antibiotics" claim is verified when it is accompanied by the Department of Agriculture's USDA Processed Verified shield or USDA Organic seal on the package. Many consumers believe that "no antibiotics" means that other drugs, such as hormones, shouldn't be used, but the claim doesn't cover other drugs.
Ratings Criteria
Good
Reducing the Use of Drugs in Farm Animals: Beef Cattle, Pigs, and Poultry Raised for Meat
 

On meat and poultry labels, the Department of Agriculture requires that a "no antibiotics" claim means that the animals were not given antibiotics in their feed, in their water, or by injection. This includes ionophores—antibiotics used only in animals, not in human medicine. Other, similar claims that fall under the same definition include: "raised without antibiotics," "never, ever antibiotics," and "no antibiotics ever." The USDA doesn't permit the claim "antibiotic free" to be used on meat or poultry.

These claims address only antibiotic use, so they don't mean that the animals weren't treated with other types of drugs, such as hormones, to promote growth or increase fertility.

Read Why Reducing the Use of Drugs in Farm Animals Matters.

Poor
Reducing the Use of Drugs in Farm Animals: Dairy Cows and Laying Hens
 

Labels on dairy and egg cartons are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, which doesn't have a definition for "no antibiotics" and similar claims, and doesn't verify the claims. You may see the words "no antibiotics" or "antibiotic free" on milk cartons. The FDA permits this and expects that residues of certain types of antibiotics in the milk are below detectable levels; however, it doesn't mean the cows weren't given antibiotics.

Read Why Reducing the Use of Drugs in Farm Animals Matters.

Poor
Verification
 

For meat and poultry, the Department of Agriculture requires that companies submit a copy of their label for approval if it includes a "no antibiotics" or similar claim. Government employees approve this one-time application based on the supporting documentation provided by the producer, without independently verifying or inspecting any farms or facilities. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't require that labels be approved before products go on the market, so on dairy and egg cartons, "no antibiotics" claims aren't verified. (The FDA, like the USDA, requires that labels be truthful and not misleading, however.)

If you see any "no antibiotics" claim plus the USDA Processed Verified Program shield, USDA Organic label, or American Grassfed label, the claim has been verified. Be aware, though, that "no growth-promoting antibiotics" doesn’t mean "no antibiotics," even if it's paired with a USDA Process Verified shield. That claim means that animals were not given antibiotics for growth promotion (a practice now banned across the board by the government), but they may still be given antibiotics for disease prevention.

Read Why Verification Matters.

Behind Our Ratings: Food-Label Seals & Claims

Consumer Reports takes a detailed look at the requirements, definitions, standards, and verification procedures behind food labeling seals and claims, and distills this information into CR ratings. Our goal is to inform and empower consumers so they can act to create demand for a healthier, safer food system.