When I read the Carnivore’s Dilemma by National Geographic I was pleased to see that it was fairly written, discussing both sides of meat production. I thought it also did a good job of presenting information about growth promoting hormones, antibiotics, feedlots, humane harvest, and more. I think Anne’s message about the article is spot on and I encourage you to read her blog post.
When I was back in Florida a couple of weeks ago for my grandmother’s funeral, my Godmother asked me if I had read the November issue of National Geographic. In it is a lengthy article entitled, “Carnivore’s Dilemma” written by scientific journalist Robert Kunzig. Following her advice, I tracked down a copy of the issue and spent some time last weekend reading it.
I’ll admit that when I first heard that an environmental journalist had written an article in National Geographic magazine highlighting cattle feedyards, I envisioned a pejorative rhetoric belittling the method that my farm uses to complete the final step of traditional beef production.
That is not at all what I found…I found a very balanced article that discusses the complex issue of responsible food production.
I commend Mr. Kunzig for his detailed personal research as well as bringing an open mind to an often heated debate. You…
Yesterday I started the Antibiotic Resistance series to shed some light on why antibiotics are fed to cattle. If you have not already, please take a minute to read Part 1, as it provides some great background information.
In addition to Tylan, rumensin can be fed which is used to keep the animal’s stomach healthy and to prevent coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is caused by an intracellular protozoan parasite that grows in the cells of the intestines. The protozoa are passed through the feces of cattle and are picked up through things cattle come into oral contact with: feed, water, hair coats, udders, other surfaces, etc. By time cattle reach six months of age, it is estimated that 100% are infected, but only 5% show signs of infection. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, poor growth, severe weight loss, straining to have a bowel movement (due to inflammation), and in some cases, death. This most commonly affects young cattle, but it may also occur in adult cattle. Anticoccidial drugs are most effective very early in the onset of the disease, before symptoms are visible. Therefore, it is generally advisable to feed young or just weaned calves (who are experiencing high levels of stress) an anticoccidiostat in their feed to control this protozoa. Rumensin and other anticoccidiostats are ionophores not antibiotics, which are NOT used at all in human medicine.
Earlier I mentioned a withdrawal date. A withdrawal date is the amount of time that must pass after an animal has received an antibiotic to the time when that animal or the products it produces can be consumed. This is measured in days, and is taken very seriously by persons involved in food production. The livestock industry has two programs in place for livestock farmers designed to enhance and reinforce proper animal care practices, recordkeeping, and the responsible and judicious use of antibiotics. These programs are Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and Pork Quality Assurance (PQA).
In December 2013, you may have heard about the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) announcement to remove “improve growth, gain, and efficiency” use of feed grade antibiotics. While this article was written for beef farmers, I think Dr. Dee Griffin does a nice job of explaining what it all means here.
Many people point the finger of blame at the agricultural industry, but there are many other factors that should be considered. First, the overuse and abuse of antibiotics by humans should be discussed. Antibiotics can be obtained over the internet and in some countries without a prescription, leaving people to self-dose and self-medicate. Additionally, persons may take antibiotics for viral infections, like the common cold, when they are not effective. People may also contribute to this problem by not completing a course of antibiotics; they may stop when they feel better or save part of the dosage to decrease expenses associated with a doctor visit and prescription. By not completing a prescribed dose of antibiotics, you are not effectively killing the bacteria that are causing the infection; the bacteria that were not killed have become stronger and in turn resistant to that antibiotic at that level and duration of dosage. Finally, we live in an antibacterial society. How many of you have hand sanitizer, antibacterial soaps and lotions, antibacterial wipes, etc. at home/work? Each time you use these they may kill some bacteria, but the bacteria that are not killed become stronger and more resistant! So take a moment to ponder how you may be contributing to the antibiotic resistance level on a personal level.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Antibiotic Resistance discussion…
Blog reader, AW, left this message: The grass vs. grain article and follow up, while touching on things most people don’t know, seems to avoid the most common issue in consumers’ minds: Thinking that grain-fed cattle must be given antibiotics because they are not “built” to consume corn, and that this contributes to antibiotics resistance.
Now before you read this I should tell you that even though I am definitely pro-Ag, but I am very against the misuse and irresponsible use of antibiotics! I very strongly believe that if/when antibiotics are needed and used, that they are administered judiciously with great responsibility. In many cases, when an animal becomes ill enough to need an antibiotic, it is life and death. If the animal does not receive the antibiotic it may suffer and die! So it is the responsibility of the livestock farmer to ensure an animal receives a quick diagnosis and the proper treatment! Just like you, I do not want to eat meat, or consume other livestock products where the withdrawal period was not followed! I think AW makes a good point. Many people are concerned about antibiotic resistance, and becoming resistant to antibiotics through the meat they eat. So let’s take a look at the facts and gain a better understanding of antibiotic resistance together.
What is antibiotic resistance? Antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic loses its ability to effectively control or kill bacterial growth. Why is this concerning? The bacteria become “resistant” to an antibiotic and will multiply. The next time illness occurs (in human or animal); it may take a different antibiotic or a stronger dose of an antibiotic to see a difference.
South Dakota State University Extension put together a nice antibiotic fact sheet. Antibiotics are given to people and animals to treat or prevent illnesses caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are given to livestock to relieve the pain and/or distress from the illness, to make them feel better, and recover. Just like with people, antibiotics have no effect on diseases caused by viruses or parasites. Antibiotics can be administered several ways, including an injection under the skin, via a pill (aka bolus), or mixed in the feed or water. When an animal is very sick an injectable antibiotic is the quickest route to get the animal on the road to recovery. It should also be mentioned that if animals are sick, like us, they don’t feel like eating or drinking, so mixing an antibiotic into the feed or water is not always effective. All livestock antibiotics approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) since 1988 require a prescription from a veterinarian who has developed a relationship with the livestock producer and can help determine the best options for disease prevention and treatment. Feedlot co-owner and operator, Anne Burkholder of Will Feed, Inc., Cozad, NE, exemplifies what a responsible antibiotic user looks like in this blog post on Feedyard Foodie.
A common myth is that antibiotics are mixed into ALL livestock rations. That is untrue. There are certain times in an animal’s life where things are more stressful than others, and antibiotics in the feed can make good sense. For example, if animals are co-mingled at a young age they are more likely to transmit bacteria back and forth (just like your kid’s daycare or school classroom). It is hard on their little bodies, and being sick can take a toll on them and make recovery harder. Also, when animals are weaned from their mothers there can be a lot of stress. High levels of stress often result in weakened and susceptible immunity which opens the door for bacterial infections. Weather conditions may also take a toll on livestock. Extreme fluctuations in temperature and the inability to get dry or warm can result in illness or pneumonia. Finally, as an animal approaches its final weight, antibiotics may be fed to help prevent liver abscesses, which may be caused from a high ration of grain in the diet. (I believe this is what AW was referring to, and I will elaborate more).
The use of antibiotics in feed or water is totally at the discretion of the livestock farmers. Some beef farmers do not feed antibiotics during these times of stress, and will just treat animals that may get sick, and some may treat all the animals to keep them all healthy. Also, animals that are fed for a niche market (i.e. organic, naturally raised, or no antibiotics used systems) will not have received an antibiotic (in these programs if they receive an antibiotic, then they are completely removed from the program). Geographically, there are some locations in the U.S. (Midwest – Iowa and Eastern Nebraska, South Texas, and Desert Southwest – Arizona and California) that feed fewer antibiotics in the feed because of a diet higher in roughages and fewer fluctuations in weather. There is no right or wrong method, each beef farmer weighs the advantages and disadvantages of the cost (antibiotics are expensive to manufacture and purchase), labor, time, efficiency, withdrawal period, and animal’s health to make a decision that is best. And just like people, some animals can handle stress better than others. Some animals may never get sick, while others may get sick multiple times.
Let’s talk more about cattle being fed antibiotics to control liver abscesses. Liver abscesses are caused by grain intake and consumption; these high energy diets require intense feeding management and can be associated with acidosis. A liver abscess is caused when cattle have an episode of acidosis. Acidosis is the most common nutritional disorder in the feedlot and can occur when cattle are fed high amount of grains in a short time, or when cattle overeat (regardless of the feedstuff). This results in the production of more lactic acid than can be buffered by the rumen, water from the circulatory system is drawn into the rumen, resulting in a change in pH. Dr. Dee Griffin, DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), says there are many reasons cattle overeat, but one of the more common reasons is a decrease in barometric pressure. Cattle can sense a storm coming, and will eat more than usual, if that diet is high in energy (i.e. grain) it may result in an acidosis event. Dr. Griffin says that when the pH in the rumen falls below five, certain bacteria can cross the rumen into the liver resulting in a liver abscess. To help control the abscesses, an antibiotic called Tylan can be fed to cattle in their feed. It is estimated that at least 75% of cattle in feedlots are fed Tylan. Tylan helps reduce liver abscesses by 40-70%! As I mentioned above, this is an individual beef farmer’s decision.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Antibiotic Resistance discussion…