Raised Without Antibiotics: Frequently Asked Questions

We are committed to partnering with local growers and producers to bring local and sustainable protein sources, seasonal produce and artisan products to UW Health. Beginning in 2016, UW Health Culinary and Clinical Nutrition Services initiated a thorough review of the meats, poultry and seafood we purchase for our retail and patient room service menu items to better understand how they aligned with UW Health’s Administrative Policy 3.0: Nutrition and Sustainability Standards. This policy requires all food and beverage items purchased and offered throughout the organization to meet specific standards for health and environmental preservation.


A food system cognizant of sustainable practices must evaluate the impact production, distribution and supply chains have on consumers and the environment’s overall health. Sustainable food includes:

  • Antibiotic and hormone-free meat and poultry
  • Pesticide and chemical-free crops
  • Source identified and local
  • Third party certification/labels and/or USDA approved claims
  • Vendor business practices including, but not limited to: protection of farm worker health and welfare and ecologically and environmentally sustainable practices (recycling, energy, and waste practices)


Why hold purveyors to such high standards?


Antibiotic resistance in food supply is one of the top concerns of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Scientists have concluded that antibiotics in food-producing animals can have a negative impact on human health.


According to the CDC, agricultural antibiotic misuse contributes to the emergence of antibiotic–resistant bacteria. All animals carry bacteria in their intestines. Giving antibiotics to animals kills most bacteria; however, resistant bacteria survive and multiply. These bacteria get into the environment and spread to fruits, vegetables or other produce that is irrigated with contaminated water.


View an infographic from the CDC: Antibiotic Resistance from the Farm to the Table (pdf)


What should I know about antibiotics in animal agriculture?


  1. An estimated 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals primarily to promote growth and to prevent infection.
  2. Antibiotics are routinely given to animals in order to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
  3. Annually, 2 million people in the United States become infected with multi-drug resistant bacteria. Approximately 23,000 people die annually as a result of these bacterial infections.
  4. Antibiotic resistance increases the frequency and severity of hospital stays, which costs the United States healthcare sector approximately $21-34 billion dollars annually.


What is the consensus of the medical community about the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture?


More than 300 leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have openly advocated ending the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in animal agriculture to reduce antibiotic misuse and protect the public health.


How can UW Health share in the stewardship role of healthcare?


Through our purchasing power and alignment with healthcare peers, we can influence market and policy changes and discourage inappropriate use of antimicrobial drugs in animal agriculture. We have developed the Nutrition and Sustainability Standards policy, which demonstrates our commitment to purchase meats and poultry raised without growth-promoting antibiotics and advocate that supply chain stakeholders carry products that meet this criterion. According to Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit organization that is helping the healthcare industry on this issue, more than 400 U.S. hospitals are working toward a goal of making at least 20 percent of their meat purchases antibiotic-free.


We have conducted an extensive review of the meat, poultry and seafood purchased for both retail and patient room service menus. Through our ongoing collaboration with REAP Food Group and by personally vetting local purveyors, we now source the highest quality and environmentally-conscious meat, poultry and seafood. In December 2017, we successfully achieved a mark of 94.6 percent of the meat and poultry purchased for retail and patient room service operations at University Hospital and American Family Children’s Hospital were from animals raised without antibiotics. This again was a notable improvement from 66.7 percent in December 2016.


What food certifications or food labels will guide purchases at UW Health?


Understanding Labels for Meat and Poultry (pdf) is a resource to identify third-party certification and label claims. These labels will be used in the evaluation of food products purchased for all Culinary Services venues.


What will this focused commitment look like at UW Health?


Through our continued partnership with REAP Food Group, we will explore local purveyors of meats, poultry and seafood. Purchasing these products may be more expensive up front; however, the investment in employee and community health is our priority. We anticipate cost-avoidance from the significant high-costs associated with treating antibiotic resistance infections.


Is food going to be more expensive to comply with these standards?


Moving to locally sourced meat and poultry options keeps our purchasing dollars in Wisconsin communities. While implementing this change, we will continue to promote healthier options by maintaining a competitive price (or lower) for these items in comparison to the less healthy options.


Does this change apply to patient meals and room service?


Yes, all Culinary Services venues including adult and pediatric patient meal services, catering, cafeterias and coffee kiosks will utilize similar sustainable products in creating menu items.


How does a change in meat, poultry and seafood purveyors support our UW Health Mission?


Offering healthier food and beverage options reinforces our commitment to be a leader in the healthcare community by providing nourishing foods and beverages to our patients and families, employees, faculty and staff.


UW Health Clinical Nutrition and Culinary services have been an active leader in achieving this goal. We have conducted an extensive review of the meat, poultry and seafood purchased for both retail and patient room service menus. Our objective has been to work toward using antibiotic-free foods as much as possible. The standards of quality we developed for human handling of agricultural animals and environmental stewardship are outlined in the UW Health Nutrition and Sustainability Standards, Administrative Policy 3.0.


The UW Health mission advances health without compromise through service, scholarship, science and social responsibility. We share a vision of working together to be a national leader in healthcare, advancing the wellbeing of the people of Wisconsin and beyond.


Who has a role in making this decision?


The We Are Health Committee is a multidisciplinary group that guides, implements, monitors and manages the nutrition standards and sustainable food purchasing guidelines for UW Health. Our standards, developed by evidence-based research and current best practices, direct our initiatives.


Additionally, we consulted with the UW Health Antimicrobial Stewardship Program and Infectious Diseases Services for their input and recommendations.


What other initiatives are the We Are Health Committee members working on?

The UW Health We Are Health Committee is committed to identifying solutions to enhance the health and well-being of patients, employees and the communities in which they live

Click on the infographic to the right to view a larger version.


Sustainability at UW Health is a program that identifies and defines sustainable solutions to enhance the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of our healthy practices through energy and design efficiency, waste management and reduction, environmentally responsible chemicals selection and purchasing, and reduction in overall carbon footprint.


Farm to Healthcare demonstrates leadership and embraces food as a preventive medicine by offering sustainable, nutritious and local food options for patients, faculty, staff and visitors.


Sustainable Practices can help reduce the impact large farms have on the local environment and Earth’s climate. These sustainable practices can also influence the local economy by supporting community farmers and businesses. The UW Health Culinary and Clinical Nutrition Services department intentionally purchases foods and beverages and tracks our percentage of dollars directed to our local economy.


Lactation Support Program is a family-friendly initiative designed to support mother and her child in a breastfeeding-friendly workplace. Employees have access to a lactation rooms, lactation consultants, local breastfeeding support classes, tips for breast pump selection and milk storage and an essentials guide for successful breastfeeding upon returning to work.


I would like to share my feedback. Where can I do this?


Please direct your feedback to wearehealth@uwhealth.org


Additional Resources


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Challenges in Food Safety, 2015. cdc.gov/foodsafety/challenges/index.html


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Antibiotic Use in Food Producing Animals, 2016. cdc.gov/narms/animals.html


National Public Radio Eating and Health: More Hospitals Are Ditching Antibiotics In The Meat They Serve, 2016. npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/12/462176257/more-hospitals-are-ditching-antibiotics-in-the-meat-they-serve


Practice Greenhealth: More hospitals purchasing antibiotic free meat, 2016. practicegreenhealth.org/about/press/news/more-hospitals-purchasing-antibiotic-free-meat


Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: A Balanced Approach to Understanding the Science of Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture, 2016. andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(16)30081-8/fulltext