Wednesday, November 24, 2021

New rapid antibiotics test could bring more transparency to meat supply chain

Veteran cattle rancher Bill Niman has co-founded a company, FoodID, that can quickly test meat for the presence of antibiotics. He believes adopting the tech will force meat companies to be honest about whether they're using antibiotics on animals, Lisa Held reports for Civil Eats.

The question matters because, scientists say, "antibiotic resistance—the growing number of 'superbugs' that are resistant to treatment—is 'widely considered to be the next global pandemic,'" Held reports. "And while a number of countries have successfully reduced dependence on them, the U.S. is behind the curve. For example, the U.S. cattle industry uses medically important antibiotics four to six times more intensively than four of the top livestock-producing countries in Europe, according to analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council."

Major meat brands sell product lines labeled antibiotic-free, but it's difficult for consumers or consumer agencies to test those claims. "While tests for antibiotic residue in meat already exist, FoodID’s version uses flow-through technology, the same technology used in at-home pregnancy tests, to make the process faster, cheaper, and more sensitive than ever before," Held reports. "Using that tech, the company’s first application seeks to partner with companies to validate their 'no antibiotics' claims, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires testing just .0025 percent of animals each year. With chicken, FoodID’s team tests multiple birds pulled from each chicken house; with cattle and pigs, they test carcasses at the slaughter facilities."

Smaller producers may be more likely to adopt the tech, since it will bolster their claims of selling superior meat. Larger meat companies may be less inclined, but Niman hopes independent watchdog groups will test the meat, a la Consumer Reports, and publicly pressure the companies to change their practiciess, Held reports.

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