Everywhere I turn, I seem to be faced with advertisements encouraging me to eat antibiotic-free meat. While one beauty of being an American is that we have the freedom to choose how we raise our livestock and what products we buy. In no way am I shaming antibiotic-free producers. However, I understand that fear of antibiotic resistance and concern for animal well-being.
As a sixth generation beef producer from the Nebraska Sandhills, I have firsthand experience with raising livestock. When cattle get sick with a bacterial infection, my family chooses to treat them with an antibiotic. We don’t do this because a sick calf would mean a loss in profit. I can speak for most if not all livestock producers when I say that our livestock are our way of life. We put our heart and soul into caring for these animals, and it pains us to see them suffer.
To acknowledge the fear of antibiotic-treated meat animals, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind. As producers, we develop herd health programs with our veterinarians, and receive training on proper dosage and withdrawal procedures. Relative to the topic of antibiotic resistance, many of the compounds used to treat animals are ionophores, which are actually antimicrobials that serve no purpose in human medicine, and do not impact antibiotic resistance whatsoever. While there are the few drugs that are utilized by both species, they are used to different degrees, as in the case of tetracycline, which accounts for only four percent of human antibiotic prescription, but comprise forty-one percent in animals. Producers feed the meat that we raise to our own families, so we would absolutely never taint the food supply.
As the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) goes into effect in January 2017, the use of antibiotics for growth promotion will no longer be allowed. Antibiotic use will be more closely monitored by requiring a VFD or prescription for the use of medically important (those also used in humans) antibiotics. The VFD, which is the result of an FDA Guidance for Industry, is part of the livestock industry’s effort to reduce antibiotic resistance.
If there are further questions about the VFD, livestock use of antibiotics, or livestock production in animals, the best solution is to contact a veterinarian or livestock producer. While we may seem far away, we are more than happy to answer whatever questions about our way of life that you have!