A consumer group appears to be pressing for any antimicrobial (including anti-parasitics) used in rearing to be listed on product labels because, it is alleged, their definition under the law is 'murky'.

Conventional cattle ranchers and pig and chicken farmers routinely feed their animals a steady diet of antibiotics to prevent illness and help them grow fatter faster, according to an article in San Francisco Chronicle. But as consumers become more obsessed with what they eat, including an insatiable hunger for meat and chicken raised naturally, without drugs, more producers are promoting their products as antibiotic-free.

Even producers who have eliminated antibiotics may be using other bacteria-killing compounds in the antimicrobial family, which have a murky definition under the law. Although not all antimicrobials are defined as antibiotics by the Food and Drug Administration, their use opens up a minefield of issues.

Among them:

  • Antimicrobials are not listed on labels
  • They work the same way as antibiotics, and
  • Many people consider them to be harmful to the environment.

"The only way to know if a producer is using antimicrobials is to call the manufacturer and ask them," said Urvashi Rangan, a scientist for the non-profit Consumers Union.

"A manufacturer doesn't have to list it on the label even if they're making an antibiotic-free claim. And as far as we're concerned, if you're using a drug to kill a parasite or a micro-organism and you're making a 'no antibiotics' claim, you're being misleading."

Some antibiotics when overused can breed resistant bacteria in livestock, in turn threatening the future success of these drugs in humans. But many farmers and ranchers argue that other antimicrobials, specifically anti-parasite medications, are harmless to people.