“All meat is tested to be antibiotic-free.”

I have seen this statement posted frequently in frustrated responses to activist campaigns and announcements by restaurants that they will be only serving “antibiotic-free meat.” What those policies really mean is that the company will only source meat and poultry from livestock and poultry never given antibiotics. Unfortunately, the details can get lost by the media and public relations pros in headlines and social media posts…but sometimes we in agriculture get caught in the same trap.

While “all meat is tested to be antibiotic-free” is certainly snappier than a paragraph-long explanation of the measures in place to make sure there are no antibiotic residues in meat, is it accurate?

The FDA, USDA and farmers themselves take many steps to ensure that the meat we eat is free from antibiotic residues, such as observing withdrawal periods and yes, testing samples – but samples are not the same as “all meat.” 

It is a frustrating battle to try to combat myths and misinformation spread by activists who have no regard for facts and scientific evidence. These groups capitalize on the fact that there is a lot to know in animal agriculture, especially in complex topics like antibiotic use, and communicating about these issues accurately requires more than a quick soundbite.

This is, of course, by design, to make correcting those myths harder for us. If you oversimplify something in order to make the explanation consumer-friendly, and that consumer later learns what you shared may not have been the whole story, their trust in you as a reliable source is immediately and perhaps irreparably damaged.

If we want to maintain our integrity and credibility, we have to go above and beyond to fact-check and verify all of our statements. If you are not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask an expert to help you craft a response or weigh-in themselves. It’s impossible for any one person to be an expert on all subjects in agriculture, and part of being an effective ag-vocate is knowing when to call for reinforcements.

Sometimes, the devil is in the details. And we have to get those details right, even when our detractors don’t worry about doing the same.