In honor of Independence Day, let's make our summer BBQs antibiotic-free!

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It’s National Grilling Month!  Just in time for the 4th of July, when many of us will be gathering for backyard barbeques and a whole lot of grilling.

Of all the things folks will be grilling this holiday weekend and throughout the month, hot dogs, hamburgers, and other grill-friendly meat items will certainly top the list. But how many of us will stop to think about an unsavory ingredient all too often used in the production of that meat? Antibiotics.

Did you know that 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are for use in farm animals, not humans? The majority of these drugs are used on industrial farms to speed up animals’ growth and compensate for crowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions. When antibiotics used day after day to raise animals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria flourish and spread, making antibiotics less effective for people. 

Routinely using antibiotics on chickens, pigs and cows that don’t need them squanders their effectiveness and threatens the health of people who do. This widespread misuse and overuse of antibiotics in industrial farms contributes to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which travel off of farms and into our communities—not just on the meat itself, but also in our soil, air, and water. Drug-resistant “superbugs” can even pass their resistant genes to other bacteria. 

I like to think of it as spreading antibiotic-resistant “pollution” into our environment. That means that whether or not you eat meat, practices in the conventional meat industry are putting your health at risk.

But this 4th of July, you and your family can declare independence from these dangerous practices by spending your BBQ budgets in support of meat producers that use antibiotics as they were intended—sparingly and only to treat sick animals.

Every day farmers around the country prove that we can raise healthy farm animals without depending on antibiotics for routine, non-therapeutic uses. Mainstream brands and restaurants like Applegate, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread offer antibiotic-free meat and poultry choices year-round. But for this grilling season, we consumers also have more and more antibiotic-free choices for fresh meat at the grocery store.

When Consumer’s Union surveyed the 13 largest supermarket chains in the country, they found a wide selection of meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. One supermarket chain—Whole Foods—guarantees that 100% of the meat and poultry sold in its stores is never treated with antibiotics. For those living in and around my old home town of New York City, online grocer FreshDirect offers a wide range of antibiotic-free meat and poultry options.

In addition, based on the data collected by Consumer Reports’ shoppers, meat raised without antibiotics doesn’t have to break the bank. While prices of such meat and poultry vary by store, type of meat and cut, antibiotic-free options are often available for prices similar to conventional meat. In some cases, prices can even be lower than the national average for conventionally raised meat.  

This 4th of July, National Grilling Month and beyond, challenge yourself to buy and ask for meat and poultry raised without antibiotics in your local supermarket. By choosing USDA Organic or products sold under a “No Antibiotics Administered” label, consumers can reward companies that are using best practices. Under the organic standard, meat producers are not allowed to use antibiotics, with some exceptions. The "No antibiotics administered" or similar labels, such as "No antibiotics ever" are regulated by USDA but are not verified. These claims are more reliable if they are coupled with a "USDA Process Verified" claim.

Have a happy and healthy 4th of July and enjoy firing up your grill!