Commentary: 'Meat without Drugs' could be inhumane

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As a public health veterinarian, I am concerned that a campaign such as “Meat without Drugs” could result in “Animals without Health”. A new report from Consumer Reports provides some public opinion data that are not surprising.

Given the constant drumbeat about the “overuse” of antibiotics in livestock production, consumers are frightened and convinced that there is a problem. One problem is that opinion polls and secret shopper surveys of labels are not scientific risk assessments.

All peer-reviewed scientific risk assessments have demonstrated a negligible risk of human health harm due to livestock antibiotic use.

I think the bigger problem is that a campaign such as “Meat without Drugs” could mean that veterinarians have no way to treat sick animals or prevent epidemic diseases.  It is not possible to raise children without antibiotics.

How do people expect us to raise these baby chicks, piglets and calves into wholesome meat, dairy and egg products without the assistance of modern medicine?  Actually, most of the antibiotics used on the farm are not the modern cutting edge products used by your local pediatrician.

Do the consumers and Consumer Reports know what happens to sick animals on organic farms, which produce animals without antibiotics? The veterinarian does not just give them some chamomile tea and send them to bed!  No, often they go untreated, hoping to get better. If that does not work then they may be treated (reluctantly) and then moved into a non-antibiotic-free group, maybe in the same barn.

If they do shed some antibiotic resistant organisms, they are easily shared with their organic neighbors.  But the worst part is they may go untreated. Once an ill animal is noted by the farmer, it has likely been sick for a while. There is little time left to treat before it dies. This waiting or denial of treatment is inhumane.

Read more from Dr. Hurd's blog.



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Sko    
Kansas  |  June, 27, 2012 at 09:12 AM

The problem lies with the name of the program- "Meat without Drugs"- of course as a consumer, I don't want drugs in my meat, and as a farmer, I want to be able to treat sick animals, under the guidance of my vet. We need to educate the public about withdrawal times, about what drugs are used for (and stop using them

sko    
Kansas  |  June, 27, 2012 at 09:19 AM

The problem I see lies in the "Meat without Drugs" name- who wants drugs in their meat? We need to educate consumers on withdrawal times and the tiny percentage of animals who pass through a packing plant that are found with drug residues. We need to use drugs to treat sickness and not for weight gain. I agree that organic and "antibiotic free" programs completely ignore the welfare of the animal- perhaps that is something else we could educate the public on?

Diana    
Idaho  |  June, 27, 2012 at 09:23 AM

It is not possible to raise children without antibiotics? Are you kidding? I'm sure that would surprise my ancestors. Where's the data that organic farmers allow sick animals to linger without appropriate treatment longer than do conventional farmers? That is a rather incendiary accusation. Or that organic farmers don't notice sick animals until they've been "sick for awhile". Please separate any facts from your opinions of organic farming practices.

michael    
kansas  |  June, 27, 2012 at 10:35 AM

A little touchy aren't we Diana? Organsmics love to dish out hyperbolic criticism of conventional producers, but they hyper-ventilate when Their business is in the spotlight. Oh, and this is a Scientific Opinion of a qualified Scientist, not the ravings of a green-living whole-health consultant. And here's a widely reported Fact: To date, the world's most Deadly Case of Food Poisioning was due to Organic Produce carrying E. Coli, that Seriously Sickened 4,000 thousand people and Killed 50 in 2011. As to rearing children without antibiotics as a Society, not an exceptionally healthy individual child, there is no "kidding" here. Unless you are a Christian Scientist or have been living in the cave belonging to your ancestors, I find it hard to believe you find this fact surprising. Please pace yourself and take deep breaths before attacking settled science and those who provide it.

Kaitlyn    
Oklahoma  |  June, 27, 2012 at 10:39 AM

Diana, once an animal that is being raised organically is given antibiotics, it isn't allowed to carry the "organic" tag anymore. When organic farmers are getting a profit for organically raised animals, it is in their best interest to see if an animal pulls out of an illness by itself before treating it. Most organic farms I have heard of have two herds: one herd for the organic, untreated livestock and one herd for any animals that have gotten ill and are being treated. The latter will not be sold as organic and will be sold for a loss due to higher "organic" inputs. Also, just like you and I, animals may not be feeling 100 percent for a few days but may not be really showing symptoms either until the illness strengthens. It is unlikely to notice the very slight changes in an animal's behavior until the animal is actually sick and showing symptoms like a runny nose. I thought this commentary piece was excellent, with good opinions and facts. That's what makes a good opinion article. Thanks, Scott!

Kerry McBride    
Utah  |  June, 27, 2012 at 10:16 AM

The voice of reason doesn't seem to resonate these days. Emotion and doctored video are the only thing people listen to today.

Diana    
Idaho  |  June, 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM

Sorry you misread and misinterpreted my comment Michael and Kaitlyn. I was not defending organic practices. My comment was directed at the poor argument and lack of data provided by Dr. Hurd. I believe essays such as this one actually do more harm than good, create infighting in the industry and portrays conventional farmers in a very poor light. What does it say to activists who target the industry? See, with or without antibiotics, farming is bad? Although I appreciate the frustrations felt by Dr. Hurd, I think this opinion piece is not helpful within the broader scope of the issue. He claims organic methods are inhumane for certain reasons he believes are inherent within the organic system, but provides no actual data to support those claims. Are animals truly denied care for longer periods than conventional producers would take? Is animal suffering higher in organic systems? I (and many others, I am sure) would be interested in hearing the evidence.

michael    
kansas  |  June, 27, 2012 at 01:06 PM

I'm not sure I did misunderstand you. But if so, that's unfortunate and I hope you don't take offense as this site is often infected with anti-livestock, anti-ag Trolls of various dysfunctions. The fact is that Organic (& numbers of "Natural") producers keep no objective records regarding production practices and are subject to any industry monitoring or quality control standards, as are most conventional producers, outside of feed content, drug use and animal environments. This means there are no objective reports possible, or information available, to answer your questions. Whether this is intentional, or simply a shortcoming of their "healthy & animal friendly" production/marketing programs is a question as well. In lieu of such information, and because it is an important issue for everyone in the livestock business, scientists are wont to do what their profession does; hypothesize with the information they have. Other than the results of this, you are forced pursue your concerns and questions with Organic and Natural producers and their marketing groups. I too would be interested in gaining additional facts from them.

michael    
kansas  |  June, 27, 2012 at 01:06 PM

I'm not sure I did misunderstand you. But if so, that's unfortunate and I hope you don't take offense as this site is often infected with anti-livestock, anti-ag Trolls of various dysfunctions. The fact is that Organic (& numbers of "Natural") producers keep no objective records regarding production practices and are subject to any industry monitoring or quality control standards, as are most conventional producers, outside of feed content, drug use and animal environments. This means there are no objective reports possible, or information available, to answer your questions. Whether this is intentional, or simply a shortcoming of their "healthy & animal friendly" production/marketing programs is a question as well. In lieu of such information, and because it is an important issue for everyone in the livestock business, scientists are wont to do what their profession does; hypothesize with the information they have. Other than the results of this, you are forced pursue your concerns and questions with Organic and Natural producers and their marketing groups. I too would be interested in gaining additional facts from them.

maxine    
SD  |  June, 30, 2012 at 06:19 PM

Honest 'organic' and 'natural' food products should be inspected at least as rigorously as 'conventional' ones are. But are they? Are the records for that available to the public? There are tests to determine if conventionally produced animals carry any antibiotic residues in their meat and the meat is then not allowed into stores. Are consumers of organic, natural, or home raised and sold foods as well protected?