Katie Couric Investigates Antibiotic Use in Livestock

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?

4 Responses to Katie Couric Investigates Antibiotic Use in Livestock

  1. Great Article.

    I would easily pay an extra $.05/ lb to eliminate the sub-therapeutic antibiotics. I worry that we don’t know enough to be certain that the antibiotics aren’t creating some sort of health problems for the end consumers.

    It also seems like the type of practice that would make herds dependent on having this in their system. What happens when farmers stop using sub-therapeutic antibiotics? I would guess that there is a stretch of time when much of the herd falls ill until their own immune systems take over.

    When farmers choose to stop using sub-therapeutics, is it the type of thing that farmers would tend to avoid doing in the winter so that it isn’t as hard on the animals?

  2. wsb says:

    I don’t want to eat diseased animals and I don’t want them treated unkindly. I am very ok with antibiotics as needed.

    I find the “superbugs” to be really scary, and I don’t use anti-bac stuff. Oh, not true, I’ve just checked and the new acne soap has Triclosan. Darn, it really works! Hmm, gotta think that over. Am I contributing to the fall of Western Civilization?

    I’m concerned about environmental impact and taste.
    I think that cheap meat tastes awful. Some expensive meat isn’t all that great. Costo for example, the nicer cuts are cheaper there, but they still don’t taste all that good.

    I’ve been buying from the farmers market, from US Wellness, Heritage USA and Wooly Pig. Most of the Farmers market stuff is very “clean”, ie grass fed and organic, but not all.

    I’m not certain how the Wooly Pigs and Heritage animals are raised, but they are very tasty.

    If meat is labeled antibiotic free, I notice that and appreciate it, but I also have other concerns. For example for a meat product like sausage, I also need to avoid gluten, soy, dairy and eggs. So I don’t always remember to check on organic/pastured/handling practices (antibac, free range, etc). I need a checklist, I guess.

  3. curiousfarmer says:

    Thanks Quantum devices and WSB for your comments.
    Yes, anytime protocol is changed there is a transition period. And I think most farmers get advice and get all their ducks in a row before making big changes.
    You must be an old farmboy to know that winter is a more stressful time for animals and a bad time to make changes.
    This transition does not always go smoothly. I know one pig farmer that switched to a no-antibiotic protocol to meet the demands of an all-natural market and quit after a couple of years because death loss was too high.
    As for us, we found a vaccine for a disease called Circovirus that has really helped our herd health. Check it out if your swine herd is not as healthy as you want.
    I believe vaccines are ok for almost all standards.

  4. flounder says:

    IN regards to the Industry hype about that mean old Katie Couric and CBS on the Danish Study on antibiotics and the overuse there of, or not, I wish to submit the following ;

    >>>We identified a clone of S. aureus previously associated with outbreaks of infections in animals and in humans who work with animals in 2 unique collections of S. aureus isolates. The first was from a population-based study of S. aureus colonization among residents of northern Manhattan in New York, NY, USA; <<>>Consequently, the clone is identified by multilocus sequence typing as sequence type 398 (ST398). <<<


    From Emerging Infectious Diseases Staphylococcus aureus ST398, New York City and Dominican Republic

    Click to access 08-0609.pdf

    First human isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus sequence type 398 in Spain

    C. Potel & M. Álvarez-Fernández & L. Constenla & P. Álvarez & S. Perez Received: 31 July 2009 / Accepted: 13 December 2009 # Springer-Verlag 2010


    Eurosurveillance, Volume 13, Issue 9, 28 February 2008

    Rapid communications

    First outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ST398 in a Dutch hospital, June 2007

    Click to access art8051.pdf


    MRSA in livestock animals-an epidemic waiting to happen?


    Emerg Infect Dis. 2009 May; 15(5): 845-847. doi: 10.3201/eid1505.081417. PMCID: PMC2687035

    Copyright notice

    Community-acquired Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus ST398 Infection, Italy


    Volume 15, Number 7-July 2009 Dispatch Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus ST398 in Swine Farm Personnel, Belgium

    Abstract We assessed methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in persons on 49 swine farms in Belgium. Surveys showed that 48 (37.8%) persons carried MRSA ST398 and 1 (0.8%) had concurrent skin infection. Risk factors for carriage were MRSA carriage by pigs, regular contact with pigs and companion animals, and use of protective clothing.


    doi:10.1016/j.vetmic.2009.12.044 | How to Cite or Link Using DOI Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. Permissions & Reprints

    Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) ST398 associated with clinical and subclinical mastitis in Belgian cows


    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Denmark's Case for Antibiotic-Free Animals NEW YORK, Feb. 10, 2010


    please see full text below ;



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