3 Things You Should Know About Antibiotics Use In The Food Supply
If you've followed the "clean" meat debate for the last several years, you know that antibiotics routinely injected into our meat sources can (and most likely do) have a negative impact on human beings. But is it as bad as they would have you believe? The answer is yes and no, depending on how the antibiotics are used. When you understand these three things, you'll be able to make an informed decision for yourself on whether to eat only antibiotic-free meat. And more importantly, what level of antibiotic free you mean. How did this whole thing begin? Decades ago livestock growers stumbled upon the fact that by adding trace amounts of antibiotics to the feed of the livestock they were raising, they could realize up to a 3% increase in weight when it was time to slaughter. Now 3% may not sound like much, but in an industry where the profit margins are absolutely razor thin, 3% can be the difference between making a profit or suffering a loss for the year. Unfortunately, researchers in the last few years -- looking at why our immune systems seem to be getting less and less resistant to microbes -- are increasingly starting to point the finger at antibiotics in the food we consume, particularly meat, as the source of our woes. Are Antibiotics bad? People like to use the phrase, "Money is the root of all evil." Which, of course, is only true if you use your money for evil purposes. Money can also be the starting point of everything that is good. (At least money can accelerate the pace of the good you can do.) Antibiotics are like that. Used on a sick animal, they can be a godsend. And who among us would fault a grower for easing the suffering of sick animal by administering medicine that would help it quickly get better? That's just good animal husbandry. Domestic animals rely on us to do what's in their best interest. To just let them suffer when the means and methods are available to help them is unconscionable. On the other hand, (there's always another hand, isn't there?) evidence in the form of peer reviewed research is increasing that routinely giving livestock low-dose antibiotics is making all of us sick. In all fairness, the jury is still out (for some people) but the preponderance of research indicates giving antibiotics routinely is a problem for society. What's the bottom line? This is one of those situations where the old, "If a little is good, a lot is better" kind of mentality kicks in. You have people who say, "If this animal has lived on the same planet where antibiotics can be found, I'll never eat meat again." Which is obviously unreasonable. Would you prefer to buy meat from a sick cow which was slaughtered and put into the food chain rather than let it die and go to waste? Believe me it happens. If you had a cow that was worth $2,000 that was sick would you just say, "Oh well. I shouldn't use antibiotics. I guess we'll just take the loss." Or would you take it to market rather than take the loss? If we let reason rule here, we'd all be fine. I think the majority of livestock producers agree that indiscriminate use of antibiotics is a bad thing. And I think they're avoiding over use. But I think most growers would agree that if you have a sick animal it's better to give that animal the medicine that would make it better. That's not likely to happen more than one time in the life of an animal. In fact, most animals will go their whole life without ever receiving antibiotics with no problems whatsoever. But to tie the hands of a rancher who has a sick cow is absurd. So what really is the bottom line? Buy your meat locally. Look for a grower who sees things reasonably. Look for a grower who is doing everything possible to produce the "cleanest" meat possible. That means you need to have a relationship with your butcher, to be able to have an expectation you are getting what you think you're getting. And finally, don't be fanatical. If an animal was given antibiotics when it was sick, it's not going to hurt you. It's the low-daily-dose that has caused all the problems. So be reasonable. Protect yourself where you can and take a stand where you have to. But be reasonable.