©2016 C. Henry Martens
Does it concern you at all that antibiotics are being fed to animals intended to end up on a plate as food? Well, it should. Whether you are a Vegan, Vegetarian, or someone that prefers their steak still mooing, you should understand that antibiotics fed to livestock as a standard practice impact what kind of health you and your loved ones will have… right now. The consequences will only grow as time goes on, and the future holds some fairly terror-inducing scenarios if meat is continued to be produced by treating entire feedlots with unnecessary antibiotics.
Wait a minute… Did I say UNNECESSARY? Whoa there… did I misspeak? NO!!! I did NOT! So let me say it again. The standard practice of using antibiotics on all of the animals in a feedlot, indeed practically all animals produced for consumption, is UNNECESSARY.
Not long ago I was watching the news, a program on one of the major networks, well respected by many and usually accurate to an extent that they are difficult to fault. They were doing a story on how antibiotics being fed to animals in crowded conditions have become a problem. This as drug resistant diseases have skyrocketed, becoming ever more deadly and difficult to treat, and the problem directly traceable to the overuse of drugs being fed to livestock. They went on to explain that by using antibiotics in such a large population, the bacteria-causing diseases have had an opportunity to mutate and create a resistance to the drugs, which in turn threaten human beings. Ending the segment, the commentator stated something along the lines of “Antibiotics are used in feed to keep animals healthy in crowded conditions.”
I do not understand how a national news organization could allow a statement like that to be broadcast… as it is patently false. Livestock producers do NOT use antibiotics as a feed supplement to keep their animals healthy, unless they are ignorant of what the real reasons are, and I find it difficult to believe that is the case.
But before I tell you why antibiotics are unnecessary as standard treatment, let’s explore the reason they came to be used in the first place. It goes something like this, keeping in mind that antibiotics were first used when feedlots were much smaller than today.
“Damn, Boss… this is the third (steer, chicken, hog) animal I’ve found dead today. What do you think we should do?”
The boss gets a furrowed brow and ponders the question.
“I know. I’ll call the vet and ask him to come down and treat all of the ones left. If any of them are sick, they’ll be cured and we won’t lose any more.”
The vet arrives, treats the entire facility, and there are fewer deaths.
The boss thanks the vet some time later, and the vet comments that it might be a good practice to treat all of the animals before they get sick as a preventative. The vet doesn’t understand that by doing this, he will get less business. He’s only trying to be helpful. He suggests a dry, powdered antibiotic that can be included in the feed that gets mixed. It doesn’t cost much per animal, so the economics make it look like something that might work out.
Okay, so this is how it started. Some guy that was losing animals through poor management wanted to cut his losses… and when he starts to add antibiotics to his feed, the loss of animals goes down. That sounds like the end of the story, right? Pretty much what the news story said and probably what you have always believed. Well, that was the end of the story… until it wasn’t. That was the end of the story as far as what the pharmaceutical companies want you to know. It sounds good so far, right? I mean, who would deny sick animals the medicine they need to survive or the poor embattled feedlot owner a living due to his investment going down the tubes?
Hey, I wouldn’t… and I’m writing this article. So what is the problem? Well, let’s continue the story.
The neighboring feedlot owner hears about the guy using antibiotics. He hasn’t had much problem with losses, because he manages his animals well to begin with. But he’s curious, so he makes it a point to talk to his neighbor with the problems. After some discussion and some sharp questions, he decides he doesn’t need the expense of the antibiotic treatments, even though they are minimal. He takes good care of his livestock and can treat what few animals become ill as they need treatment.
The guy treating his livestock as a standard practice has a sharp bookkeeper, probably his wife, and she notices something unusual. She’s a lot smarter than her husband, and that’s why she keeps the books. She notices that this batch of steers that received the meds has gotten to market weight faster than the neighbor’s animals. She does a little digging and realizes that they haven’t had to buy as much feed. The light bulb starts to glow above her head, and over the next couple of years she tracks feed costs and weight gained and discovers that the feedlot is making more money. At first she had thought it was just that they were losing fewer animals, but the light bulb gets brighter until she can’t ignore the facts. The animals are gaining weight faster, eating less feed, and it all started when they started using antibiotics in the feed.
Visiting her good friend over the fence one day, she tells the neighbor’s wife what she has discovered. The neighbor’s wife has noticed that their friends have had some unusually good years, and has held a small grudge as she knows her husband is a better livestock man than the neighbor. She rushes home with the news.
Being a cautious man, her husband listens patiently and thinks long and hard about the past years. He and his neighbor trade information freely, being helpful to each other as good neighbors are. He remembers all of the numbers his next door competitor has let fly, stating what he pays for feed, how much his animals weighed when he bought them, how long they were fed, and when they went to market, and concludes there might be something to this information his wife has brought to his ear.
He has a larger operation with several enclosures, and he selects random paddocks to receive antibiotic laced feed while others receive no drugs. The results speak for themselves. He starts to feed antibiotics to his livestock even though he has healthy animals. The practice spreads throughout the industry.
The livestock industry is competitive, the feed industry is competitive, the pharmaceutical industry is competitive, and when the word gets out that people are making more money by feeding antibiotics to their animals… because they eat less and gain weight faster… it doesn’t take long for others to follow. Lower feed costs, shorter turn around times that animals have to be kept, and other incentives… all translate into the possibility of a new farm truck or tractor.
The problem that most people, including those using the antibiotics, don’t seem to realize… is that before antibiotic use was standard practice, the playing field was level. That means that there was no significant advantage to feeds laced with drugs, because no one was using them. What happened when everyone started to used laced feeds? The playing field became level again. So any advantage in using drug laced feeds went away. I need to say that again, loudly. On a LEVEL playing field, there is NO ADVANTAGE to antibiotic laced animal feed! The feed costs were stable among the feed buyers before, and they were after. No advantage. Meat prices were stable before, meat prices were stable after. No advantage. Animal loss was stable before, animal loss was stable after. The only industries that were affected were the veterinarians and the drug suppliers. What money stopped flowing into veterinarian’s pockets to treat individual animals, began to flow into big pharma’s pockets. The hundred dollars that a vet would charge to treat a single animal was diverted into drugs to treat a thousand animals. And it has to be said, there are still ailing animals and deaths regardless of the antibiotic laced feeds.
So now we have the truth of why antibiotics are fed to animals in feed lots. The practice started as a low cost solution to bad management, but ended up being a way to level the playing field over an entire industry. THAT is what it is all about. You and your children are living in a world with ever more virulent diseases because “everyone else is doing it, so I have to do it to compete”.
There are countries that have stopped the practice of treating entire populations of animals. Those countries don’t have the lobbies that this country does.
What I am saying, is that the playing field could be re-leveled without any substantial harm to the people producing the high quality protein that most of us eat. I am also saying that the animals would be better off as well by being treated only as they require drugs for diseases. That would create a healthier world for ALL of us. Even the pharmaceutical CEO’s kids would have a healthier future. But those CEO’s would take a hit to their wallets.
I am of the opinion that they would survive, and survive well. Perhaps the new yacht would have to wait until next year…