The President Is Encouraging People to Eat Antibiotic-Free Meat, Starting With Himself

June 3, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2018

After the White House convened a conference with food companies, supermarket brands, and health officials on Tuesday, June 2, about reducing the use of antibiotics in raising meat and poultry, the president signed a memorandum requiring all federal government cafeterias to offer antibiotic-free meat options.

The White House also announced that the Presidential Food Service, which runs the White House kitchen and serves President Barack Obama and his family, will commit to using antibiotic-free and growth-hormone-free meats.

The meat industry’s widespread use of antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth in animals has public health experts worried about antibiotic resistance among humans. As antibiotics get overused, the drugs lose their effectiveness at inhibiting or killing bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria causes 2 million people to fall ill and 23,000 people to die from bacterial infections every year.

Obama first tackled the issue in September last year, when he signed an executive order to establish a governmental task force to monitor antibiotic resistance and develop ways to combat it in the public health and agriculture sectors.

In Obama’s Tuesday memorandum, he said his administration wished to encourage those producers who raise antibiotic-free animals—by giving them preference for contracts to provide food for federal cafeterias. Federal agencies are to implement a plan for contracting with such producers by the year 2020. 

A number of poultry producers have recently announced that they would phase out the use of antibiotics in their chickens, including Tyson Foods, the country’s biggest chicken processing company.

Some food retailers, like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart—the country’s largest fast-food chain and grocer chain, respectively—have also placed pressure on their meat suppliers to curb antibiotic use. McDonald’s said it would stop serving chicken raised with antibiotics in two years, and Wal-Mart released voluntary animal welfare guidelines for their meat and egg suppliers.

Follow Annie on Twitter: @annieeenyc