Antibiotics used during food animal production account for approximately 77% of U.S. antimicrobial consumption by mass. Ground beef products labeled as raised without antibiotics (RWA) are perceived to harbor lower levels of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria than conventional (CONV) products with no label claims regarding antimicrobial use. Retail ground beef samples were obtained from six U.S. cities. Samples with an RWA or U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic claim (n = 299) were assigned to the RWA production system. Samples lacking these claims (n = 300) were assigned to the CONV production system. Each sample was cultured for the detection of five antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. Genomic DNA was isolated from each sample, and a quantitative PCR assay was used to determine the abundance of 10 antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes. Prevalence of tetracycline-resistant Escherichia coli (CONV, 46.3%; RWA, 34.4%; P < 0.01) and erythromycin-resistant Enterococcus (CONV, 48.0%; RWA, 37.5%; P = 0.01) was higher in CONV ground beef. Salmonella was detected in 1.2% of samples. The AMR gene blaCTX-M (CONV, 4.1 log-normalized abundance; RWA, 3.8 log-normalized abundance; P < 0.01) was more abundant in CONV ground beef. The AMR genes mecA (CONV, 4.4 log-normalized abundance; RWA, 4.9 log-normalized abundance; P = 0.05), tet(A) (CONV, 3.9 log-normalized abundance; RWA, 4.5 log-normalized abundance; P < 0.01), tet(B) (CONV, 3.9 log-normalized abundance; RWA, 4.5 log-normalized abundance; P < 0.01), and tet(M) (CONV, 5.4 log-normalized abundance; RWA, 5.8 log-normalized abundance; P < 0.01) were more abundant in RWA ground beef. Although these results suggest that antimicrobial use during U.S. cattle production does not increase human exposure to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria via ground beef, quantitative microbiological risk assessments are required for authoritative determination of the human health impacts of the use of antimicrobial agents during beef production.
Three antimicrobial resistances were higher in conventional products.
Levels of four antimicrobial resistance genes were higher in RWA beef products.
Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus was not detected.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus was detected in 1% of samples.