Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the elimination of antibiotic use in animal agriculture; a move, WHO says, that will fight the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, in a recent press release. “Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe.”
Forget the fact that WHO has erroneously demonized things like nitrates in beef jerky and bacon, red meat in general and most recently, herbicides, as cancerous, despite large bodies of evidence that say otherwise, livestock producers are being called to change their practices and not only reduce the use of feed-grade antibiotics for growth promotion, but also eliminate the use of antibiotic use in disease prevention, unless a veterinarian has diagnosed an illness in an animal within a herd or flock.
In a recent Reuters article, written by Lisa Baertlin, the U.S. is being criticized for lagging behind Europe in this battle against drug-resistant superbugs.
Insert sarcasm here — imagine how troubled I am to know that we are considered behind Europe, a place where livestock producers are so crippled by burdensome and unnecessary regulations that the countries are forced to import most of their food!
With WHO’s recommendations comes rising pressure for food companies to develop antibiotic-free policies. In Europe, companies like Domino’s Pizza Group U.K. have committed to phasing out the routine use of antibiotics in beef, pork and poultry.
Yet, this summer in the U.S., Tim McIntyre, Domino’s EVP of communications, said this about livestock production: “We will never tell a farmer how to farm. We will never tell a rancher how to raise his or her animals. What we believe is they’re the experts. They have the most vested interest in raising their livestock. It’s not just a job, we recognize that. It’s a life and we appreciate that — and we’re not afraid to stand up and say it.”
Despite the cooperation and understanding of companies like Domino’s, Culver’s and Wendy’s, we know public sentiment is not in our favor. Whether we like it or not, animal agriculture must be part of the antibiotic resistance conversation. Certainly, we can be part of the solution, and the new Veterinary Feed Directive should give consumer some assurance that livestock producers are judiciously using these products to maintain herd health and ward off diseases.
That’s not enough for some places though. Reuters reports that in California and Maryland, new laws that will become effective on Jan. 1 will phase out the regular use of antibiotics for disease prevention in the animal agriculture sector. This October, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require grocery stores to report antibiotic use from their meat suppliers. What's next?
Despite the changes the industry has already made, I think more emphasis should be placed on human use of antibiotics. I have some mom friends who, every time their kids have a little sniffle, call their doctors and get a prescription of antibiotics for the whole family. I have one friend whose son was basically on antibiotics for the first 18 months of his life for one ailment after another — ear infections, sinus infections, etc.
Sure, these antibiotics are useful, and life saving, even when small children get sick. But I believe human use of antibiotics has run rampant and, as a population, we need to look in the mirror and take responsibility for the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
We all want to be healthy and having access to medicine that can help us when we are sick is important. Likewise, I think our consumers need to know and understand that in animal agriculture, when our livestock are sick, we want to retain the right to treat our cattle to make them better. It’s the right thing to do, and from an economic standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to over-treat and over-use costly medicines in livestock production.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.