‘Antibiotic free’ labels can mislead consumers by implying products not labelled in this way do contain antibiotics, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance has warned.
RUMA has reviewed its position on food labels like ‘Antibiotic-Free’, ‘Reared Without Antibiotics’ and ‘No Antibiotics Ever’. It re-stated its position that while it welcomes efforts to minimise antibiotic use through improved health and welfare, it does not support the use of these claims for marketing, for the following reasons:
- Labelling products as “Antibiotic-Free” has the potential to mislead the consumer by implying that meat or milk not marketed as such contains antibiotics, which is not the case, as there are strict rules governing the administration of antibiotics to farm animals in the UK. These rules are enforced by Government surveillance to guarantee that in meat or milk sold for consumption, antibiotics are not present above a harmless trace level set as a maximum residue limit.
- If claims of ‘Antibiotic-Free, ‘Reared Without Antibiotics’, ‘No Antibiotics Ever’ or similar mean the animals from which the milk or meat is derived have not been given antibiotics in their lifetime, this presents the risk of driving unintended consequences. The main concern is causing unnecessary suffering and associated welfare issues by withholding treatment from sick animals in order to comply with the label, when in fact the animals should be treated. Equally, if sick animals are taken out of that supply chain and appropriately treated, then the wider system of production does still include antibiotic use, which may not be clear to consumers.
- While the terms ‘Antibiotic-Free’, ‘Reared Without Antibiotics’, ‘No Antibiotics Ever’ or similar may be used to differentiate produce in some countries where use of antibiotics for growth promotion is still permitted, it is not relevant nor helpful in the EU where this practice has been banned since 2006.
RUMA said it was committed to ensuring antibiotics are used in animal production only when necessary, and when used that the right antibiotics are given in the most effective way possible to cure animal disease while minimising the risk of antibiotic resistance developing.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the association fully supported RUMA’s position. “While we can continue to lead the drive to reduce and refine antibiotic use in the pig sector, we have always been concerned that these sorts of labels can mislead the public about how antibiotics are used in livestock. We do not want the public thinking that the meat they buy contains antibiotics of it isn’t labelled as antibiotic free.
“It is also essential that the drive to reduce antibiotics does not come at a cost to the health and welfare of livestock.”