Antibiotics & Animals

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Antibiotic use in poultry is in the news again.  Some of the information accurate, much of it less so.  Perdue got huge points with activists with their September 3rd announcement of use reduction and usage levels (Perdue Achieves Milestone) which resulted in more flurry asking others when/if they were going to follow suit.  I follow a group on twitter, @fosterharms, who took the opportunity to flood twitter with questions to all major retailers asking them to pressure Foster Farms.

I willingly admit I am very close to the industry.  My work paid for my first house and the education I received from that work continues to guide my activities to this day.  I’ve worked in organizations that used antibiotics and I’ve worked in organizations that didn’t.  I remember the pain of implementing a program where you couldn’t use antibiotics.  Chickens died.  The statement that ‘we will not compromise our animal welfare to avoid the use of antibiotics’ is a very important statement to me.  I also know that a lot of companies who say they don’t use antibiotics are playing a word game.  They don’t use antibiotics in certain phases and lie by omission.

My experience has always been that companies use antibiotics to mask poor grower management practices.  There was always a lot of noise about antibiotics as growth promotion.  I never really bought into that.  Healthy birds grow.  Good management keeps birds healthy.  You walk with them. You monitor their water and feed intake.  You cull the little ones who aren’t doing well.  You keep them active.  You listen to them.  They grow.  If you can’t or don’t do that, you give them antibiotics and the birds get by.  This article talks a bit about the treatment but also attributes the reason to ‘bulking up’.  (Low Dose Antibiotics)  It does go into great detail about the risks associated with low doses – similar to the risk of a person not taking their entire prescription.  The weak die and the strong evolve.

I’m not claiming that elimination of antibiotics in animals is necessary.  I’m not even certain it would be beneficial.  What I do know is that persons who understand what is being done need to become more involved in the discussion.  Right now the producers are saying they are 100% right and the activists are saying the producers are destroying the planet, endangering the populace etc etc etc.  The truth – as it so often does – lies in the middle.