Beef absent of antibiotics may not be safer

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jul 10, 2006
by WLJ
In light of recent legislation in both the House and the Senate proposing to ban antibiotics from livestock feed, some say beef will not be any safer with such measures imposed, according to an Institute of Food Technologists’ study released last week. Chicago Tribune reported the study, conducted by the panel of food scientists and microbiologists, was provoked by marketing campaigns during the past decade by organic food advocates who have suggested there is an overuse of antibiotics making the food less safe for human consumption. The claims stated in the proposed legislation cite critical danger to humans.

One particular group mentioned in the study is the Organic Trade Association, based in Greenfield, MA, which serves as a host organization of the U.S.’s organic producers. The association refers to 10 studies during 2000 and 2001 regarding the use of antibiotics to support their claims that antibiotics have been abused by U.S. farmers and ranchers.
The most recent study was pursued to “bring balance” to the issue, according to Michael Doyle, chairman of the panel.

“The study does raise questions about those groups using this as a basis for their promotion of organic and natural products,” Doyle said.

The study is being presented as organic and natural meat sales reach new highs. The most recent data shows a 13.5 percent jump in organic and natural meat sales from 2004 to 2005 and reports of continued skyrocketing growth are being made. Within four years, sales have nearly doubled to $681.3 million annually, according to AC Nielson, a research and consulting firm.

Doyle said his intentions are not to advocate the misuse of antibiotics, but rather warn against reducing the levels of antibiotic use in food production, claiming elimination would have little effect on bacteria that might develop resistance to antibiotic treatment in humans. Rather, he said, stopping the use of antibiotics in feed would cause livestock to gain immunity to the drugs making them ineffective in treating disease.
“The fact is that if we cut back on antibiotics in animals raised in food production, we would see a marked increase in food costs because we’re going to have a lot of animals we’re not able to treat effectively,” he said. “Overuse in humans, not regular use in animals, creates strains of resistant bacteria that hurt humans. Prior human exposure to antibiotics is the greatest factor for acquiring an infection with antibiotic resistant bacteria,” said Doyle, not routine treatment of animals.

The panel reviewed 20 years of research into antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance to make their claims. — Mike Deering, WLJ Editor