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.

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About Benjie Klein
Born on a cold day in 1984 my eyes opened for the first time gazing hazily and it was clear, I knew nothing. Over time, however, that has changed. Hi, I'm Benjie Klein, currently enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in the Mass Communications and Journalism MA program. After receiving a bachelors degree at Michigan State University I worked for the Detroit Tigers and Lions before taking a year off to travel (adventures can be learned about at http://benjieofftheleash.blogspot.com/). Now I embark on a journey to tell you not of myself, but the world of technology and the way it continues to shape the world we live in. In addition, every once in a while I'll throw in some sports related commentary or just general ideas on life in a journalistic manner, of course.

2 Responses to Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat

  1. I would personally prefer not to eat animals chocked-full of antibiotics which might lead to antibiotics being ineffective in my own system. Unfortunately, I do not have the money to buy meat from small local farmers who only use antibiotics in cases where they are necessary so government regulation sounds like a good start. I only wonder what capability the FDA has to try to regulate such an enormous factory farming industry.

    • It’ll be an interesting battle. I feel like if Europe can accomplish the feat, there has to be a guideline that can be followed in the United States. It might not be perfect at first and no doubt people will complain, but like other things in life people eventually adjust to the changes. With hefty fines to the people who don’t abide by the laws, their perceived “loss of money” from the new regulations might not be so bad.

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