What this claim means
The “antibiotic free” claim is not allowed on the label of meat and poultry products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The “antibiotic free” claim is allowed on dairy product labels, like a milk carton, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has no regulatory definition for the “antibiotic free” claim, but expects it to mean that there are no residues of antibiotics in the product. But it does not specifically guarantee that the cows were not treated with antibiotics or other drugs, or that the milk was tested and found to be free from antibiotic residues. The FDA does not verify the “antibiotic free” claim on dairy product labels, nor does the agency require third-party verification to ensure the claim is true.
Where you’ll find this labeling claim
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees labels on meat and poultry, does not allow the “antibiotic free” claim on meat and poultry labels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees labels on dairy products, allows the “antibiotic free” claim.
There is no standard or regulatory definition for the “antibiotic free” claim.
Can you trust the claim? Is it verified?
This claim is not required to be verified. The “antibiotic free” claim is not allowed on meat and poultry labels. On dairy product labels, the FDA does not verify the “antibiotic free” claim nor does the agency require verification.
Why it matters
Choosing animal products from animals raised without antibiotics is an important step consumers can take to help address the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. But on the label of a dairy product, the “antibiotic free” claim does not indicate that the milk cows were not treated with antibiotics. Look for one of the claims or seals listed below for assurance that the cows were not administered antibiotics in the absence of disease.
The following labeling claims and seals mean that antibiotics were not given to animals, or were only given to treat diagnosed disease*:
USDA Organic (except in poultry hatcheries and on day-old chicks)
Animal Welfare Approved
Certified Humane (except poultry)
Global Animal Partnership (except chicken)
PCO Certified 100% GrassFed
NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed
*Learn more about each labeling claim or seal, and specific requirements for antibiotic use, by clicking on the link.
Don’t rely on these claims:
American Humane Certified