Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat

Cattle Production courtesy of USDA website

We all get sick and animals are no different. Many people take vitamins, supplements, or even antibiotics to try to prevent their own health from degrading. If you feel a cold might be coming on or the change of season leaves you vulnerable, why not pop a few pills.

But, what about for the delicious animals who many of us enjoy from time of time?

Right now, commercial farms all around the country are in a heated debate with the Food and Drug Administration over antibiotics being administered to animals. Many of these producers give antibiotics before any signs of disease, but to stifle the opportunistic diseases that may emerge. And it doesn’t hurt that certain antibiotics can make the animals a bit more on the plumper side without feeding them as much.

The New York Times recently looked at the issue and what the FDA is attempting to do about it. While these new “guidelines” may not lead to full-out banishments on using drugs, it might help prevent some from feeding these animals drugs, especially when unnecessary. A sick animal is one thing and a large part of the issue we’ll dive into shortly, but giving antibiotics to produce a larger product is where we’ll start.

The saying has been around for years, but rings true in many forms of life… quality over quantity. For starters, pigs and cows haven’t traditionally been small animals. It might cost a bit more to feed them the truly appropriate amount of food, but if the situation were somehow reversed (in a magical world where animals ruled over humans), wouldn’t you prefer food over drugs before being slaughtered? Health is one thing, but this is one version of antibiotic treatment that shouldn’t even be up for discussion.

So, now we come to health. Antibiotics used to prevent illnesses before they ever have a chance to think about emerging in the animals. The largest concern with this seems to be drug-resistance for both animals and humans to diseases as the animals and future generations are placed on the same regiment. Scientists and researchers have seen an increase in potential links according to PBS frontline. The PBS frontline episode debuted April 18, 2002, and eight years later the debate rages on.

With so many foodborne illnesses still a potential problem like e-coli and salmonella, do you really want to be eating the meat that might get you sick and prevent an easier solution of recovery. The New York times article mentioned above spoke with a variety of doctors, including Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaking to a meat producer, Todd Carr from Pecatonica Valley Farm in Hollandale, Wisconsin, he said no sub-therapeutic drugs are used at the farm he shares with his wife Amy. And while all animals have the potential to get sick, such as cows getting pneumonia, once the penicillin or other drugs are administered they are no longer used in meat production. Depending on the situation, the cows can still be used to help raise their calves.

Of course, the real issue for farmers and even those buying their products is simple, money. If a product costs more to produce, it will cost more to buy. And if it means more labor for farmers, having to monitor their animals a bit closer, that too might cost more money. But, in 2006 when the European Union banned antibiotics for growth, after a ban in 1998 of specific drugs, they were able to adjust. Even if it were to cost both sides more at the time of production and purposes, the long-term costs of mystery health issues might add up to more in the end.

In June 2010, the FDA released these guidelines. And by the end of 2010, we’ll see if guidelines turn into regulations.

Intro with some Buffalo

Let me start off by giving a brief introduction into my world of meat. I eat a lot of it and I don’t discriminate. Doesn’t matter the animal, nor body part (ears, bone marrow, sweetbreads, etc.). My list includes the basics like cow, pig, chicken, lamb and seafood. It goes on to buffalo, venison, kangaroo, emu, ostrich, alligator, crocodile, duck, quail, taco bell meat, wild boar and continues on for a little while. I’ve never been one to care where it comes from or how the animals are fed as long as it tastes good.

But, the truth is, animals raised in specific manners both taste better and are healthier.

There are a lot of controversies in the world of meat and a lot of meats people are often afraid to explore because they don’t know where they are coming from. This blog will help confront issues like antibiotic use, organic meats, specialty animal farms, and other controversies popping up in the world.

Buffalo courtesy of U.S. National Archives

Today, we’ll start with a meat that has become more popular in America. The rising interest in healthy living continues to rise in America, yet many refuse to give up the deliciousness of red meats. And so, bison (or buffalo) meat has moved to the forefront of many looking for an alternative.

We’ll start at the beginning. The meat itself before any kind of commercialization jumps in is said to be leaner, comparable in taste, and a lot healthier in general. According to, the fat content, cholesterol, and calories of Bison meat is all less than beef or chicken. Plus, add in some of those crazy omega fatty acids everyone is a fan of and buffalo may be a magical meat.

So, bet you want to raise some.  There are some benefits and downfalls of getting involved in buffalo farming. The National Bison Association gives a list of “advantages” for Bison. Things like lower disease resistance, no artificial shelter, and long productive lives tend to be the focus. Of course, Bison are a bit more on the wild side than your normal cattle as well. They can get a tad bit anxious and are a bit more on the difficult to contain side. Plus, while it is healthier and slightly more popular, for some reason people find themselves afraid to take chances on their meats. A slightly different taste and a whole new animal altogether will force some to shy away.

Of course, now that it is more popular, it’s also beginning to face the same problems that mass production of meats encounter. Back in July, over 60,000 pounds of bison meat was recalled for an e-coli breakout.

And for those who didn’t know, back in the 1800s Bison were near extinction in the United States. Over 300 years have surpassed, but if this part of the meat industry skyrockets and people want their bison watch out for numbers to begin dipping and prices to start increasing. Prices are already a bit more with the distinction this is a “specialty” meat.