Why do we use antibiotics in food animals?

The last few days have been fluttering with information about the Food and Drug Administration announcement last week which called on drug companies to help limit the use of antibiotics in farm animals.
Why is this an issue: The FDA has struggled for decades with how to tackle the problem because it’s so important to the agriculture industry who agrees that drugs are a key part of modern meat production. Some livestock producers give antibiotic drugs like penicillin, which can be routinely mixed with animal feed and water to help livestock, pigs and chickens put on weight and stay healthy in feedyards. Others only give when necessary to help a sick animal. This scare from the FDA has consumers worried that excess antibiotics are being passed through the meat and affecting humans.
Blogs, press releases and quotes are all over the Internet, so instead of writing about this issue, I’d like to just share resources that are already out there.
look and listen blog“I am a mother, grandmother and cattle feeder in northeast Nebraska. When we use antibiotics in cattle it is for sickness. We do not use long-term antibiotics for cattle performance. The type of antibiotics we do use are not used in human medicine. People need to know that we utilize antibiotics to take better care of the cattle. It is really all about animal welfare,” says Joan Ruskamp, CommonGround volunteer and cattle feeder in Dodge, NE. Read about Joan’s feedyard and how she “Looks and Listens’” for signs when her cattle are sick here.

Teresa Brandenburg, CommonGround volunteer and beef cattle farmer in Russell, Kansas says, “We manage about 85 head of beef cattle each year on our farm – momma cows and their calves. It’s really important that we keep every one of them healthy. Antibiotics given to our cattle are always prescribed by a veterinarian. Overall, you should know that our animals are on a stringent herd health program. We give them vaccinations to prevent disease and only use antibiotics to treat them when there is a problem.” You can also hear what she has to say about antibiotics in this video:

Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek blog and a turkey producer says, “I’ll admit, I lost some sleep worrying about the idea that we were putting human health at risk in order to raise our turkeys. But I’m a modern (stubborn, skeptical) woman, and I wasn’t totally convinced. I have two little boys – I really wanted to make sure that we, as a farm, and we, as an industry, weren’t doing something that would endanger them. …Instead of taking my husband’s word for it, I talked to the experts….I’m no longer worried.”
The Beltway Beef blog featured veterinarians to explain the how’s and why’s of antibiotic use in cattle. Watch the video here:

Joe Frasier, beef rancher in Eastern Colorado {and my dad!}, says, “I give antibiotics on an individual case basis, based on the diagnostics of the elements and the animal’s temperature. Then I make sure to get a veterinarian’s diagnosis. For example just recently, I had an animal with swelling in her jaw, which I had the veterinarian look at. She diagnosed it as an infected tooth (yes, animals can get those too, just like humans) so the vet recommended that I give her tetracycline. Why? The vet said that was the best type of antibiotic for a bone infection.”

Having the veterinarian consent is a must when it comes to animal health in my dad’s cattle herd. He also said that he always has backup and documentation what he’s giving the animals based on the vet recommendation. By having this documented, an animal cannot go into the food system still having that antibiotic in its system.  He can still make important decisions on medication to give his cattle, and is not required to have veterinary consent, but in order for anyone else to pick up antibiotics from the vet’s office (like Mom or other ranch management), he calls into the office to verify that he is going to pick up and administer that medication to a sick animal. The vet ok’s it and documents. This may seem like overkill sometimes, but consumers and safe beef are the end products that beef ranchers keep in mind in every decision that is made.

What’s your take on antibiotics?

5 thoughts on “Why do we use antibiotics in food animals?

  1. Thanks for gathering all of this great information on recent consumer concerns. I think it's important for producers to speak out when concerns arise – reminding the public that we care about our animals and our products, possibly even more than they do. When loud voices are spreading misleading information, I think it takes many voices of reason to answer them.


  2. I really appreciate this blog. As being an agriculturalist I agree on the use of antibiotics within the livestock industry. I feel it is a must in order to keep the animals healthy and alive. There are many consumers that have no knowledge what so ever about the livestock industry and don't realize how important some of these drugs are for many different health reasons. I also appreciate how you gather different producers to talk about this issue. Sometimes consumers need to hear it from the actual producer and not the media and so on. The media can defiantly lead consumers in the wrong direction.

  3. @Farmoutloud and @Sierra Gangwer – thanks for the great comments!

    @Katie, thanks for letting me use your quote and link to your blog. It is a great post, and you always have great info!

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