While pursuing through social media the other day, I came across a post saying that people who think it’s “unnatural” to treat a sick animal with antibiotics are the same people who are excited to eat a lab-created steak.
I thought the post was very funny, but apparently some of my non-farming friends did not.
I got a couple of messages from folks informing me that the use of antibiotics in meat animals is why there are antibiotic-resistant viruses in humans, so on and so forth.
I guess I’m no longer “friends” with one of these people because of my response. I said the “natural” thing to do when something is ill is to treat it. I also went into a bit of information about withdrawal times on medications, VFD requirements, testing at slaughter and so forth. Maybe my “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” statement prompted the “unfriending.” They were a friend, of a friend, of a friend anyway, and I don’t miss their “likes” on my posts, so I’m good with my decision to step on a couple of toes to present factual information.
Animal health and wellbeing is a priority for livestock producers, and if that means there needs to be some human intervention to ensure a healthy outcome, farmers and ranchers are going to do just that. Even producers who follow an organic method of production will administer antibiotics when needed. Those animals, however, are not marketed as organic.
Critics of the use of any antibiotics in animals have claimed, according to the North American Meat Institute, that 80 percent of the antibiotics in use are used in animals. The organization goes on to explain that the information isn’t complete. Each year, more than 30 million cattle, 100 million hogs, 200 million turkeys and 8 billion chickens are processed in the U.S. The combined weight of livestock and poultry in the U.S. is more than triple the combined weight of American men and women. A 1,200-pound steer is equal to roughly six men, for example. If a steer needs treatment for pneumonia, common sense dictates that the steer will require a larger dose. Because of the number and size of animals, it would require more antibiotics by volume than it would for the combined human population.
Ironically, the majority of antibiotics are either used in humans or animals, but not in both.
According to Food and Drug Adminsaition, the largest category of sales in animals is tetracycline at 43 percent of the total volume, and ionophores, at 29 percent of the total volume. Ionophores are never used in human medicine and cannot contribute to human antibiotic resistance. Tetracyclines comprise only 4 percent of the total volume of sales for humans.
Three compounds – penicillin, fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins – comprise 70 percent of the total sales for humans, while two different compounds – tetracyclines and ionophores – comprise 70 percent of the total volume sold for animals. The claim that the vast majority of the most “medically important” antibiotics are used in animals is not supported by the data.
Where are these “superbugs” coming from? Not the agriculture industry. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service sampling data show that bacteria on raw meat and poultry products are decreasing across the board – not increasing.
Is it possible these resistant strains are developing because of the over prescribing of antibiotics to human patients? Are antibiotics needed to treat ill people? Absolutely. Should we be concerned about what we are consuming? Yes, but not about antibiotics used to treat ill animals.
To my former social media “friend,” I hope you enjoy your lab-created food products and don’t forget to check the ingredients label to make sure there’s nothing “unnatural” about it.
Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected]