Remember that time I wrote about magazines using scare tactics in headlines to draw in readers?
Oh yeah, that happened yesterday.
How fortuitous, because we’re about to get lesson no. 2 in scare tactics and headlines. See CNN’s latest exhibit, “Restaurant report card grades on antibiotics in meat supply.”
Seems pretty straightforward, no? Only, it isn’t because there aren’t any antibiotics in the meat supply.
Seriously. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
In fact, it’s against the law for any meat with antibiotic residue to enter the food supply, per very strict and thorough FDA guidelines and review processes.
Those guidelines stipulate that farmers must keep records regarding which animals have been given antibiotics, when they were given the antibiotics, what types of drugs were given and the dosage.
All of those records are kept to ensure that the withdrawal time for any given drug is followed, meaning that no animal may enter the supply chain before any administered antibiotics have fully left the animals system. In other words, if there aren’t any antibiotics in the animals’ systems while they’re alive, there certainly aren’t any there when they’re slaughtered.
Read a little farther down and and you’ll pick up on the fact that, in an effort to promote the importance of avoiding antibiotic resistance, the report card is actually grading restaurants on their policies regarding how and why antibiotics should be administered to food animals while they’re in production.
The FDA has been examining the same thing for the last several years, working with farmers and veterinarians to decrease the amount of therapeutic antibiotics given to food animals, working toward antibiotics being used primarily in treating or preventing diseases in animals. All of this in order to ensure the further efficacy of the antibiotics we humans use.
Unfortunately, when you read between the lines, the article, or the at the very least, the folks behind the report, seems to allege that all antibiotic use in food animals is problematic. In fact, report authors Friends of the Earth and others gave the restaurants who have pledged to source only animals that are raised without antibiotics the highest grades. And, just like the headline, they’re off base.
The fact of the matter is, farmers do use antibiotics — they have to for the well-being and comfort of their animals.
Let’s say you have a kid at home who is sick. Before that sickness progresses to something worse, your doctor prescribes an antibiotic. After leaving the doctor’s office, your first stop is likely the drugstore, getting that prescription filled because, as a parent myself, I know there’s nothing worse than seeing your kid sick and miserable.
The same is true for farmers who are dealing with sick animals. Just as we don’t want our children to suffer, they don’t want their animals to suffer during sickness or, worse yet, allow that sickness to progress to something worse. That’s why farmers work closely with veterinarians to ensure they’re using the appropriate drugs at the appropriate times and the appropriate dosages to nurse those animals back to health.
Most importantly, farmers are working hard to reduce the development antibiotic resistance by working with veterinarians, continuing to phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion (again, per FDA requirements), and treating animal diseases with antibiotics that aren’t commonly used when treating human diseases.
Honestly, there’s nothing wrong in asking questions of farmers and the food procurement system about how and why antibiotics are used. Consumers have every right to know how their food is raised and why farmers do what they do. But when farmers tell you how and why they’re using antibiotics, listen! It’s not just because they’re out to make a buck, it’s because they care about their livestock and their quality of life.
And, like you, they care about the availability of effective antibiotics for all of the Earth’s creatures, humans included.