New study raises mistrust in ‘Raised Without Antibiotics’ claims

A study, recently published in peer-reviewed academic journal Science, raised questions on the lack of integrity of the “Raised Without Antibiotics” (RWA) label used on animal products after found cows treated with antibiotics, despite being specifically raised for the RWA market.  

Claims such as “No Antibiotics Ever,” “No Added Antibiotics,” and “Raised Without Antibiotics” are approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), however, the agency doesn’t mandate empirical testing to validate those claims.  

According to the study, a “substantial portion” of cows that are destined for this antibiotic-free market have been treated with antibiotics.  

The Science study was done by researchers from George Washington University, who tested urine samples from beef cows being slaughtered for the RWA marketplace. They tested ca. 700 cows from 312 lots and 33 different RWA-certified factory farms and found that 42% of factory farms had at least one animal test positive, equal to approximately 15% of the RWA cows slaughtered during the study period.  

The researchers focused the study on cows, but they suggest that other farmed animals are vulnerable to similar problems.  

Out of 9 billion farmed animals slaughtered for the food industry in the US every year, only less than 7 000 are tested for antibiotics by the USDA. These analyses are carried out through the US National Residue Program, which, however, is not designed to assess the “Raised Without Antibiotics” claim, it just aims to determine whether antibiotics exceed their maximum residue limits.