David Wallinga, with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, is among those who argue that overusing antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance that could be passed on to humans.
John Paterson, an extension beef specialist at Montana State University, said there is no solid evidence that beef raised without antibiotics is healthier.
"But, as meat producers, if the consumer wants the product, we're going to produce that product for them," he said.
Producers who market their beef as raised without antibiotics must document their procedures for the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, a spokeswoman said. The federal agency must approve labeling of products making special claims, such as "raided without antibiotics."
T.G.I. Friday's now serves Meyer Natural Angus burgers in its restaurants, a decision bolstered by the meat's taste and performance in consumer surveys, said Tom Koenigsberg, vice president of domestic marketing for the chain.
Lee Leachman, chief executive officer of Montana Range Meat Co., said producers earned premiums averaging $.13 cents per pound of carcass weight over that past two years.
"The premiums we're offering can make it so, in the bad years, (a cattle rancher) breaks even and in the rest of the years, he makes double what he would have. That's pretty significant," said Leachman.
Killman said the market represents an opportunity for ranchers.
"We, as cattlemen, are going to have to target our cattle to some specific market," he said. "We can't just go out and raise cattle and then hope that somebody buys them."