When I spoke to the chefs who helped with this month’s cover story about Austin, both mentioned the importance of finding meat that was natural, along with being locally, sustainably and humanely raised. Franklin Hall, CEO of Lone Star Foodservice, mentioned that within five years, natural meats sales have come to account for a quarter of the company’s business.
Then came my interview with Lea Richards of Pig of the Month for this month’s barbecue story. She says that the company uses antibiotic-free and hormone-free meat. None of the company’s products, including desserts and barbecue sauces, contain artificial ingredients, and it sources locally whenever possible.
The drumbeat for antibiotic- and hormone-free meats is growing louder every day. For the chefs in Texas and for a young entrepreneur like Richards, “natural” is not just a fancy buzzword they can use to charge a few extra dollars for their product. It’s a movement that they believe in. Their passion for food demands that the food they sell be both good and good for you, and unnecessary feeding of growth hormones and antibiotics are not part of that equation.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report detailing the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance causes more than 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States, with 250,000 illnesses and 14,000 deaths attributable to Clostridium difficile, a unique bacterial infection that, although not significantly resistant to the drugs used to treat it, is directly related to antibiotic use and resistance.
Recommendations from the CDC to fight antibiotic resistance include improved antibiotic stewardship, both in humans and animals. Up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not prescribed appropriately. Certainly I have seen it on the human side when I take my children to the doctor’s office. Doctors aren’t giving out antibiotics for the sniffles anymore; there must be actual signs of an infection present.
The CDC’s report went on to say that much of the antibiotic use in animals in unnecessary. It noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed guidance describing a pathway for using these drugs only when medically necessary and targeting their use to only address diseases and health problems.
“We are asking everyone who uses antibiotics, especially healthcare providers, healthcare leaders, the agriculture industry, manufacturers, policy makers and patients to step up to this threat and fully engage with us to stop it,” said Michael Bell, MD, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.
Right now, selling ABF meats is a growing niche where companies like Lone Star and Pig of the Month can succeed. If there is a sea change in policy regarding antibiotic use, though, that niche could become the future of the meat industry.