Antibiotics Check

Sampling Program Targets Antibiotic Residue

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Protecting consumers from false and misleading claims on products with the USDA mark is behind a new sampling program aimed at verifying label statements of no antibiotic use. (AMR Image, Getty Images)

Those slaughtering cattle and producing products with the claim that the animals were raised without antibiotics are going to be under growing scrutiny as a new federal sampling program gains momentum.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have begun what they are calling an "exploratory sampling program." The goal is to see if there are antibiotic residues in cattle that are going to market under claims they have been "raised without antibiotics" or RWA.

As part of the sampling, liver and kidney samples will be collected and analyzed. The ARS has a method that can find 180 veterinary drugs from various classes of antibiotics.

If the sampling detects antibiotic residue, the FSIS will issue a letter to the establishment and advise that it conduct an investigation into the cause and to prevent "misbranded products" from being sold. If no letter is sent, the test results are negative.

Eligible establishments are those that slaughter cattle and those producing products that bear RWA claims, including: "No Antibiotics," "No Antibiotics Ever," "Raised Without Antibiotics," "Antibiotic Free," "No Antibiotics Administered" or related claims.

The results of this initial sampling program will be used to make a decision as to whether the FSIS should require that all product sold under a RWA claim be subject to a verification sampling program.


This new sampling protocol "builds on the significant work USDA has already undertaken to protect consumers from false and misleading labels and to implement President (Joe) Biden's executive order on promoting competition in the American economy," according to a USDA release on the matter.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in the announcement: "Consumers should be able to trust that the label claims they see on products bearing the USDA mark of inspection are truthful and accurate. USDA is taking action to ensure the integrity of animal-raising claims and level the playing field for producers who are truthfully using these claims, which we know consumers value and rely on to guide their meat and poultry purchasing decisions."

The agency earlier began to move to require the approval of the FSIS on labels of meat and poultry products that use voluntary marketing claims of "grass-fed" and "free-range." The FSIS updated its guidelines on use of those claims in 2019.

The FSIS is issuing revised industry guidelines recommending that companies strengthen documents they submit to the agency to substantiate claims of how animals are raised. The agency said it will "strongly encourage use of third-party certification" to verify claims in the future.

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Victoria Myers