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Prevention or Profit?

Prevention or Profit?

Antibiotics began being administered in low daily doses to farm animals when it was discovered that livestock would “gain as much as 3 percent more weight than they otherwise would” without antibiotics (Frontline 2002). This 3 percent gain might seem trivial to us, but to a farmer needing to turn a profit, a 3 percent weight increase could help meet the bottom line even if he/she has added input costs. However, financial stability is not the only factor to consider when making decisions about the management and sustainability of the farm. In the reading, Wilkie (2010, 33) quotes John Webster as saying that the routine administration of these drugs is a testament to poor husbandry. There is a big distinction between preventative care that can help maintain the health and wellness of an animal (sunshine, pasture, clean water) and the frequent use of antibiotics as part of the herd management system (daily, sub-therapeutic antibiotics). In my opinion, non-therapeutic drugs should not be administered to livestock for the sole purpose of fattening them up.

Last year, the FDA issued Final Guidance #209, recommending that producers voluntarily limit and phase out the use of drugs for the “injudicious use” of antibiotics, which includes growth promotion and feed efficiency (Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics 2013). Other countries, such as Denmark have completely banned the use of preventative antibiotics and “have started growing healthier pigs and losing fewer to disease — and the pork industry is thriving,” (Johnson 2014).

Personally, if I’m not feeling well, I try to use “Homeopathic, herbal or other non-antibiotic alternative treatments” (Animal Welfare Approved 2013) so I’m still straddling the line between whether or not preventative antibiotic use should be allowed within certain livestock certifications (as far as I could tell it is not allowed in the four we are reviewing this week). On the one hand, giving an animal drugs before they are sick (a good stockperson would notice this (Wilkie 2010)) could mean saving its life and keeping the farmer from going out of business if the disease is affecting several individuals. On the other hand, death on a farm is natural and a good management system would attempt to find the root cause of the disease rather than treat the symptoms.


Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics. 2013. “Major Developments in US Policy on Antibiotic Use in Food Animals.” Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics.

Animal Welfare Approved. 2013. “Pig Standards.” Animal Welfare Approved.

Frontline. 2002. “Modern Meat.”

Johnson, Nathanael. 2014. “Nervous about MRSA? Us Too -- but Here’s What We Can Do.” Grist. Accessed June 19.

Wilkie, Rhoda. 2010. Livestock/deadstock: Working with Farm Animals from Birth to Slaughter. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Nice post, Karla. I am with you on the personal use of alternative treatments. I do use antibiotics as a last resort but rarely. Preventive care is often key to this endeavor and I would include in that concept, making sure I am nourished properly and de-stressed. Good husbandry of animals should allow for something similar when it comes to livestock.  

Erin, I did our last project on a local beekeeper but I never knew that antibiotic use was an issue for this kind of livestock. The subject never came up with my friend, who is the beekeeper, but he is “ital” or lives naturally per his religious custom so I doubt he uses them in his apiary. He also only keeps the African honeybee that I believe is far hardier than the European variety so maybe that the antibiotics are unnecessary. I sure you would have insight. Thank you for making that connection for me. I’ll have to follow up with Glen.



Being curious about the connection between weight gain and antibiotic use, I looked up some articles to find out what causes the weight gain. I wondered if it was water weight, muscle weight, or fat. Scientists with the same question performed a study on mice imitating what farmers have been doing for years to fatten up their livestock. They began low-dosing young mice on a daily basis. According to a study posted in the journal Nature, "The antibiotics altered the composition of bacteria in the guts of the mice and also changed how the bacteria broke down nutrients. The bacteria in treated mice activated more genes that turn carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids, and they turned on genes related to lipid conversion in the liver. Presumably, these shifts in molecular pathway enable fat build-up. Just as farm animals get fat, the antibiotic-fed mice put on weight" (Cho et al 2012). My next question does this translate to our health when we ingest food that has been raised in this manner? Could it have anything to do with the Western diseases that we are experiencing in our nation?

For the full study:

Cho, Ilseung, Shingo Yamanishi, Laura Cox, Barbara A. Methe, Jiri Zavadil, Kelvin Li, Zhan Gao, Douglas Mahana, Kartik Raju, Isabel Teitler, Huilin Li, Alexander V. Alekseyenko, and Martin J. Blaser. 2012. "Antibiotics in early life alter the murine colonic microbiome and adiposity." Nature. 488:621-626.

Hey Katrina! Thanks for looking into this further! You are right to ask about our health, as we are the next link in the food chain. I don’t doubt for a minute that what we feed our animals affects our health. We use corn and soy in so many processed foods but most people probably don’t realize that we’re also consuming corn and soy in our meat products. I’m not surprised to see that Beef Magazine says there is no health difference between grass-fed and grain-fed ground beef (Smith 2014). Others claim that the change in cattle diets from grass to grain is directly correlated with increased rates of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (Kiernan 2012). But it’s important to note that Kiernan is director of the Global AgInvesting Research and Insight, which is sponsored by the soybean industry…?

Kiernan, Bill. 2012. “Grass Fed versus Corn Fed: You Are What Your Food Eats.” Global AgInvesting.

Smith, Stephen. 2014. “Grass-Fed Vs. Grain-Fed Ground Beef -- No Difference In Healthfulness.” Beef Magazine.

There are links that antibiotics are also causing weight gain in humans.  I think this overuse of antibiotics will be the casue of our downfall. We are inavertantly medicating ourselves to death.  I do believe that we are what we eat and if we are eating animals that  are sick and weak and thus making us sick and weak and fat.  I predict that the CAFO operations will naturally go extinct when we can no longer afford to bring the food to the animals and the animals will have to move themselves.  The pigs are going to continue to evolve into drug resistant machines that can not live without sacrificing our own health and welfare.

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