Contrary to what some vegans believe, we meat lovers are not—at least not necessarily—indifferent to the evils of commercial meat production. We don’t sit around thinking of ways we can make pigs miserable. We want them to be happy, at least until we eat them. But the meat business, ever resourceful and pressed by hard times to sell more and more, has come up with a handful of claims with which to assure us. Some, like “organic beef,” have specific and rigorous qualifications. Others are largely bogus. For example: All Natural. This one is so vague that I wonder how I could ever have been convinced by it. I suppose it’s because I wanted to eat the meat it described. Natural, with a capital letter, is a USDA designation that only means the meat has been minimally processed and that there are no additives. All natural doesn’t even mean that. I don’t know what it means. And neither do you.
Antibiotic Free. This one is more specific, and does represent a valid claim, as far as it goes. But it’s unregulated and not approved by the USDA. Just because a piece of meat doesn’t have antibiotics present at the time of sale, doesn’t mean that the animal has never been given them. For one thing, there are a lot of healthy farm animals who, for one reason or another, have gotten antibiotics; if an animal is sick with an infection, you don’t just let it die. (In feedlot or commodity production, the kind of nightmare factories you sometimes see in PETA videos, they have to give the animals antibiotics because otherwise the festering sinkholes in which they live would kill them. Also, it helps them gain weight for some reason.)
Antibiotics are bad in meat because bacteria become resistant to them, and then these beefed-up bacteria get into us. But antibiotics can get into an animal in other ways too: if the feed they get contains antibiotics, which it often does. Better terms to look for are “no antibiotics administered” or “no antibiotics added” when accompanied by “USDA Process Verified.”