This entry was posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 9:36am and is filed under Food Safety, Ag Policy, Media and information, Meat, Health, Food Production. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
One of the top priorities for our direct-market beef customers is that we raise animals without the routine use of antibiotics. That concern is second only to their desire to purchase meat from animals that have not been raised in a feedlot.
We are not an organic operation, even though we use only organic fertilizer and mechanical (no herbicides) weed control. The main reason we are not organic is that I feel it is in our animals’ best interest to be able to treat them in whatever way needed if they get sick or injured. Sometimes that means antibiotics. If we were “no antibiotics” or “organic”, any animal we treated would have to be sold at the sale barn into a feedyard.
In four years of selling beef, I’ve had only one or two customers who have said they specifically wanted beef from totally non-treated animals. Since we maintain a production history on each animal and know from which animal each package of beef was harvested, we can accomodate these few.
Over the five years we’ve been stewards of our ranch, the need for antibiotics and other “non-organic” treatement has decreased dramatically. Our soils have gotten healthier and we’ve developed a complex ecosystem of plants for the animals to graze. We’ve culled (or harvested) animals that don’t do well with fewer interventions.
But, what about the mainstream beef industry? A report by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production included recomendations for a ban on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. This in turn prompted pending legislation that would limit the use of antibiotics of for nontherapeutic purposes. Nontherapeutic is defined as “any use of the drug as a feed or water additive for an animal in the absence of any clinical sign of disease in the animal for growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain, routine disease prevention, or other routine purpose.”
Antibiotics, when used routinely in intensive production (i.e. confinement) do increase feed efficiency, increase growth rates, and lower the incidence of disease. We designed our operation with a “no routine antibiotics” pledge not because we were against antibiotics, but because we felt that a situation in which routine antibiotics showed significant benefit was one in which the animals were under stress. I doubt if our cattle would show any benefit from the addition of any antibiotic feed additive.
One doesn’t have to search far to find written opinions on this issue. BEEF magazine has had articles and an editorial discussion of the PEW report on the issue. From a bovine veterinarian’s point of view, banning antibiotic use would increase disease, animal suffering and human health risks.
My own viewpoint is that this is a whole-systems issue, not one that can be addressed piecemeal. A ban on routine antibiotic use must coordinate with adjustments in production systems resulting in less stress to the animal, less exposure to disease and an overall healthier environment. These adjustments will also likely result in an increase in the price of meat. If the ban is passed, there will be casualties; animal and business. I think it’s an adjustment worth making, but it must be made intelligently and wholistically.