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. http://www.tufts.edu/med/apua/policy/policy_antibiotic_food_animals.shtm....
Animal Welfare Approved. 2013. “Pig Standards.” Animal Welfare Approved. http://animalwelfareapproved.org/standards/pig-2014/.
Frontline. 2002. “Modern Meat.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/.
Johnson, Nathanael. 2014. “Nervous about MRSA? Us Too -- but Here’s What We Can Do.” Grist. Accessed June 19. http://grist.org/food/nervous-about-mrsa-us-too-but-heres-what-we-can-do/.
Wilkie, Rhoda. 2010. Livestock/deadstock: Working with Farm Animals from Birth to Slaughter. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.