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Deciphering Today's Meaty Options
February 19, 2010 • Posted by Vivian Manning-Schaffel

Take a stroll through any supermarket and you'll find more and more options to choose from -- organic vs. non-organic, free-range vs. antibiotic-free. If you are a meat-eater, here is some background information about what these different labels mean, so you can decide which to buy for your child.

Antibiotic Free
Most cows, chickens, and other livestock either eat or drink low levels of antibiotics to speed their growth and keep them from spreading illness to each other in the tight quarters they live in. However, there is some important information about the use of antibiotics in meats and poultry that is worth paying attention to.

The basic rule with any antibiotic is this - the more an antibiotic is used to stave off a strain of bacteria, the more the bacteria will become resistant to it. That said, antibiotics used in agriculture have contributed to the emergence of bacteria resistant to common antibiotics.

Eating meat or poultry containing antibiotics doesn't transfer them directly to you and your child, but there is some concern that the overuse of these antibiotics will increase antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And experts warn that there are new strains of diseases emerging that no longer respond to antibiotics.

On the flipside, if antibiotics aren't given to animals kept in pens, or are given in too small a dosage, the bacteria can survive and multiply into resistant strains of disease. Some of these bacteria can be spread by eating the meat, causing strains of food poisoning that are hard - or impossible - to treat.

For more information on the benefits of antibiotic free meat, visit Eat Well Guide.

Free-Range
The term "free-range" describes animals that are allowed to graze the farm freely, as opposed to the close confinement of a pen.

In theory, free-range animals are healthier and eat better, and thus are less likely to need antibiotics. Unfortunately, the standards for free-range labeling don't include the use of preventive antibiotics. So just because a meat is labeled "free-range," does not necessarily mean it is antibiotic free.

Organic
Certified organic meat is devoid of antibiotics, hormones, or any other drugs used in industrial agriculture. Proponents of organic food say they really can taste the difference. As the organic food movement is at an all time high, it's pretty easy to find organic meat at any supermarket chain, farmers market, organic food store or even at the butcher.

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