Earlier this week, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) released its position statement on programs that tout the animals were raised without antibiotics. In short, AABP encourages producers and practitioners using these programs to always consider the health and welfare of cattle.
The rise in popularity over the past decade or so in natural, organic, never-ever and antibiotic-free beef production had a goodly number of beef producers scratching their head in consternation. Me among them. Many beef producers probably still are.
But the reality is that, whether we think consumers have been duped or not, the demand for that type of product exists. And if you’re looking for ways to add value to your calves, those production systems have now become more mainstream. If a premium is there, it’s time well spent to pencil through it and see if it’s worthwhile to chase down.
So for me at least, the concern over these production systems shifted over time from the direction of consumer trends and the untruths that consumers were and are being told, to concern about animal welfare. Beef veterinarians, those for whom animal welfare is a daily passion, have shared that concern.
According to AABP, that concern centers around the animals in antibiotic-free programs that get sick or injured and need antibiotic treatment. “Animal welfare is one of our primary obligations as veterinarians,” says Mike Apley, BEEF Vet’s Opinion columnist and AABP president. “We are not making any kind of statement as to the acceptability of these programs, [with the position statement] but rather how veterinarians can best work with producers in raised without antibiotics programs to ensure animal welfare is at the forefront.”
Among the tenets of the AABP position statement is that, working with a veterinarian, there needs to be strategies in place to allow for the responsible use of antibiotics when needed and those strategies must include alternative marketing plans for animals that require antibiotic treatment.
The task force that produced the position statement stressed that it’s important to have a veterinarian integrally involved in raised without antibiotics systems to develop herd health programs. Indeed, every beef operation, regardless of production system, needs to have a strong working relationship with a veterinarian to help develop a sound herd health program.
The pressure on beef producers and their veterinarians to use fewer antibiotics and to use them judiciously will only increase. A big part of that effort is to ensure cattle don’t get sick in the first place. That means vaccinating your cattle and following BQA guidelines.