Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media


All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.


One of the most important tools of modern medicine is in jeopardy. In the 20th century, antibiotics turned once-lethal infections into manageable diseases. They also contributed to the transformation of meat production in America.

Sorry bacon lovers, we've got some sad news about your favorite meat.

To get those sizzling strips of pork on your plate each morning takes more antibiotics than it does to make a steak burrito or a chicken sausage sandwich.

Pig farmers around the world, on average, use nearly four times as much antibiotics as cattle ranchers do, per pound of meat. Poultry farmers fall somewhere between the two.

When it comes to the current controversy over antibiotic use on farm animals, milk is in a special category.

Lactating cows, unlike hogs, cattle or chickens that are raised for their meat, don't receive antibiotics unless they are actually sick. That's because drug residues immediately appear in the cow's milk — a violation of food safety rules.

Milk shipments are tested for six of the most widely used antibiotics, and any truckload that tests positive is rejected. So when cows are treated, farmers discard their milk for several days until the residues disappear.

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media



The largest association of U.S. physicians is calling for tighter rules on antibiotic use in livestock. 


This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which we talk about important issues related to food production.

FDA pushing to limit livestock antibiotics

Dec 20, 2013
Bill Wheelhouse/Harvest Public Media

The FDA wants to phase out antibiotics in meat.

Regulators released a broad plan earlier this month, designed to prevent meat producers from using drugs that are also used to treat sick humans. That means some changes Midwest farmers and ranchers will have to get used to.

Soil may be a source of antibiotic resistance

Aug 31, 2012

Soil bacteria may be helping to make disease-causing bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

That’s according to a new study out of Washington University.

Lead researcher, microbiologist Gautam Dantas, says he and his colleagues found seven genes in farmland soil bacteria that are identical to genes in human pathogens – and that provide resistance to a wide range of antibiotics.

Jessica Naudziunas / Harvest Public Media

The Food and Drug Administration is publishing an order this month that limits the way farmers can use certain antibiotics to treat animals, and eggs.