I watched Katie Couric infuriate the US livestock industry over the past two days. She reported on sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock and the “superbugs” that may develop as a result. It was a fair report.
A little background to catch you up to speed. The US livestock industry routinely uses a low level of antibiotics in the feed or water of birds and animals to promote growth. This is what is meant by the term sub-therapeutic, or growth-promoting.
One of the problems with this strategy is the possible development of “superbugs”, antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I don’t know if this has been proven, but it seems plausible.
We gave this some thought on our farm and discontinued sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics years ago. We aren’t organic, however, and we do reserve the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease.
And this makes sense to us, because, after all, this is how most people use antibiotics in their own life, (hand sanitizers excluded).
And this is a paradox many animal rights people don’t understand, but most livestock farmers enjoy raising animals and don’t want to watch them suffer from disease if there is a treatment available.
Katie Couric profiled the Danish swine industry which banned sub-therapeutic antibiotics years ago. Contrary to predictions of the industry’s demise, the Dutch pig producers learned how to raise hogs without this crutch and their industry has even expanded since the ban.
Banning sub-therapeutic antibiotics is not without a cost, though. The cost to raise a pound of pork increased five cents per pound. This sounds about right.
And that’s why I’m not knocking hog farmers who choose to use sub-therapeutic antibiotics. Five cents per pound over several years can make or break a hog farm; and it is an acceptable and legal practice in the US.
But sub-therapeutic antibiotics are not necessary and it gives the livestock industry bad press. I wish we could come to a consensus as an industry and eliminate the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics while still reserving the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease. But of course I’m biased because that’s the protocol for my farm.
What do you think? Do you see the difference between antibiotics used to treat disease and sub-therapeutic antibiotics to promote growth? Do you pay more for antibiotic-free meat? Do you seek out the lowest-priced meat? What is important to you? Why?