In the store you might see meat from farms like ours labeled as being "antibiotic free" -- but wonder to yourself why that's a big deal. Wouldn't antibiotics help keep animals healthy?
A few weeks ago, National Public Radio's Science Friday had a segment about antibiotics in our food and the issue of antibiotic resistance.
No matter how you feel about how often people should take antibiotics, we can probably agree it is good to have them actually work when someone really needs them. Unfortunately, it seems that because of how often antibiotics are used, more and more germs are becoming resistant to them.
You've probably heard about the growing threat of "super bugs". A super bug is a bacteria that is immune to antibiotics and has the ability to hurt people. This is because of something called antibiotic resistance. The more you use antibiotics, the more the germs get used to the antibiotics. Eventually, they just stop working.
Here's the thing: in America today, over 80% of antibiotics are used in animals. I used to think this meant the antibiotics are used to care for sick animals. Most of the time, though, they are fed to livestock as a normal part of their eating. Not simply to keep them from getting sick but to trick their bodies into growing faster and fatter.
We know that germs are getting more and more resistant to antibiotics because we use them too often. And we know that most are fed to livestock.
A study being reported by US News and World report drives home just what a problem this use of antibiotics in animal feed can be. The study looked at pigs raised in China and the US. It appears to show that by including antibiotics directly in the animal feed (standard practice at most farms) the germs in the animals develop resistance to multiple antibiotics. (That is, the medicines needed to take care of sick animals or people will no longer work as well.)
Besides not knowing for sure what happens with the antibiotics that wind up back into the groundwater and waterways, we also want to be good neighbors and avoid doing something that might harm all of us. Seems obvious, but that's not standard practice!
When we say no shortcuts, this is part of what we're talking about. It isn't like it's hard to do. In fact, it can lead to healthier animals and healthier all of us in the long run!
Quote from the Science Friday segment: "Countries that have banned routine growth promotion and routine prophylaxis" (feeding healthy animals antibiotics 'just in case') "have not seen declines in their herds. Denmark had a marked expansion in its pig production after they did the ban."
When choosing the meat your family eats, be sure to ask the farmers if they regularly feed their animals antibiotics.
Conventional farmers might point out that organic methods of production which don't allow any antibiotic or other medication isn't healthy for the animals or the consumer either. This is where the conventional farmers have a point. Organic isn't necessarily better in every way. (Sad, but true.)
Science Friday is awesome. This really is a fascinating listen.