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Is “Antibiotic Free” Just Marketing?

July 11, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeveral restaurants the last few months have made big announcements about their meats being sourced from antibiotic free places. Like individuals, companies have the option to source food from where they want. They do so based on customer demand. Or what customers say they want.

There seems to be an increasing demand to move back to ‘natural’ and the way things used to be, to the point of dismissing that decisions made over decades were for good reasons. There are always tradeoffs – chickens get outside, but are more exposed to passing things. Songbirds are frequent visitors to our area, with some even nesting right in the rabbit barn! Rats and mice are less welcome, as known carriers of diseases better prevented than treated.

There are many things we do on the farm, and at the processing level, to keep food as safe as possible but food is not sterile. Bacteria and viruses are all over in our world! Many are concerned about that, with antibacterial soaps that some question if they do more bad than good. There has been an increased concern in the antibiotics that birds and animals destined for the table eat, and how that affects us and the ability to use antibiotics for illnesses. Some want less, or no, antibiotics in the animals raised for meat.


An article I saw yesterday made me wonder just how dedicated to antibiotic free people are.

“We have to remember that before we had antibiotics, it was pretty easy to die of a bacterial infection,” said Laxminarayan, a research scholar with the Princeton Environmental Institute. “And we’re choosing to go back into a world where you won’t necessarily get better from a bacterial infection. It’s not happening at a mass scale, but we’re starting to see the beginning of when the antibiotics are not working as well.”

The study found that India was the single-largest consumer of antibiotics in the world in 2010, followed by China and the U.S.

The study also found that antibiotic consumption has flattened in the U.S., compared with the five BRICS countries. However, U.S. citizens per capita still account for far more antibiotic consumption than any other population, with a rate of more than twice that of India.

We don’t do antibiotic free labels here, although as a custom raised place we can provide meats that have never been treated with antibiotics. A bigger point is in the last 10 years no animals have received antibiotics. That isn’t unusual. For all the talk and what media reports say, most farms don’t use antibiotics unless they have to, for reasons of resistance and cost!

It’s critically important for you, dear readers, to understand that this doesn’t mean no medication. Somewhere down the line, if not already, someone is going to feel “lied to” because of ‘no antibiotic’ promises. Coccidiostats, dewormers and many other medications are not antibiotics. If we don’t use antibiotics, but do use other things as needed, is that lying or telling you what you want to hear (that antibiotics aren’t used)? Some might say this is semantics but it’s an important qualification.

If you have a cold, you go to the doctor, the doctor gives you an antibiotic and you take it then you contribute to antibiotic resistance. How? Colds are virus caused, so antibiotic won’t kill it – antiviral will. This might be basic biology 101 but in the fear to avoid fatal illnesses we too often don’t think. I can honestly say I haven’t used antibiotics in 10 years because antibiotics don’t affect what I need to do. Taking away antibiotics is an unfair issue for many.

It’s not unusual for a cow, for example, to get a slight infection after calving – after all they’re not in a sterile environment. We can take precautions but it’s not foolproof. Normally a few days of antibiotics and she’s kicked it, she goes back to the herd and lives a long life. Except in a certified organic herd, or ‘antibiotic free’ herd where she must be removed forever. No antibiotics ever means just that – never. Nothing like getting fired for a minor illness!

On the other hand, our rabbits it’s easier to keep clean to minimize infections. Antibiotic issues are a real concern, from the farm to the meat counter. There are certain situations antibiotics are used in fruit production too. The goal of every farm, large or small, produce or meats is to get as much to the consumer as we can that is safe, tasty and as fresh as possible. Sometimes, for reasons most people don’t understand in the black and white world.

The increasing consumption of antibiotics in the human population is a concern because there is a balance and keeping both animals and humans as healthy as possible is a big deal.

Everyone has an interest in safe food.


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