Posts Tagged ‘animal antibiotics’

What a difference a day (or three) makes.

Friday, Subway updated their policy on antibiotics used in food animals and animal welfare in greater detail, and let me say, their second try makes a whole lot more sense.

The company did a little bit of backpedaling, saying:

“Our goal is to reduce and eliminate the use of antibiotics in the food we serve. Elimination of antibiotics use in our supply chain will take time, but we are working diligently with our suppliers to find quality solutions that also ensure our high quality and food safety standards are upheld and not compromised in any way. Our plan is to eliminate the use of antibiotics in phases with the initial focus on the poultry products that we serve in the U.S…

That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals.”

I appreciate their review and subsequent clarification, but it’s a pretty stark contrast to their original statement saying they would only source meat from animals that have never been treated with antibiotics. If anything, it shows how little the company understands about how farmers use antibiotics and why.

It’s frustrating, but not surprising. And they certainly aren’t the only ones who may not understand the ins and outs of antibiotic use in food animals. Essentially, farmers use antibiotics in three ways:

  1. To treat or control disease outbreaks.
  2. To prevent common diseases.
  3. To increase feed efficiency, or as it is more commonly understood, to promote growth.

Subway’s initial statement basically boiled down to one rule: farmers can’t use antibiotics, ever. Their revised guidelines say that farmers can use antibiotics to treat and prevent disease, but not to promote growth.

And you know what? That’s understandable. After all, antibiotics used to promote growth have actually seen a steady decline in recent years as farmers have refined herd health practices, making animals healthier as a result and growth-promoting antibiotics less and less necessary.

Still, food companies and restaurant chains aren’t the only ones issuing this directive to farmers; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued it’s own directives saying the same thing, and farmers are doing their best to comply.

Effective in December 2016, all antibiotics used to promote growth will be brought under veterinary supervision so that they are used only when necessary for assuring animal health. In other words, the only way farmers will be able to include antibiotics in animals’ feed or water is to treat or prevent illness, with a written prescription from the veterinarian with which they work. All this according to the FDA’s Guidance for Industry #213 and #209.

In 2013, the FDA asked pharmaceutical manufacturers to voluntarily surrender their growth promotion labels and put all other therapeutic uses of antibiotics under the direct supervision of veterinarians, and that’s just what they did. Companies voluntarily gave up their growth promotion claims for all antibiotics that are in classes used in human medicine.

It’s important to note that studies have shown agricultural antibiotic use having minimal effect on public health. Despite that, farmers are consumers, too, and understand the need to protect medically important drugs for human use. That’s why drug manufacturers and farmers have willingly made changes to the way they market and use antibiotics.

And, despite the changes in the way antibiotics are used, one thing has always, and will always remain the same:

There are no antibiotics in your meat.

There weren’t antibiotics in your meat prior to the FDA’s directive, and there won’t be any antibiotics after the final rule is implemented. That’s because farmers follow strict veterinary and antibiotic withdrawal times.

Withdrawals are the time an animal is given the drug last to the time an animal is sent to market. It’s illegal to send an animal to market with antibiotics still in its system. In fact, the Food Safety and Inspection Service tests for antibiotics in the meat supply by randomly testing a certain percentage of meat in every packing plant in the U.S. Additionally, any animals who appear to be a higher risk for antibiotic residue are closely monitored. Finally, every animal that is sent to a processing facility is inspected by a veterinary before it’s harvested. Every. Single. One.

For more info on Subway’s updated policy, check out:

Subway Updates Statement on Antibiotic Use in Livestock

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I don’t do fast food often, you guys. I mean, I enjoy an order of McDonald’s fries as much as the next guy, but I just don’t partake that often because:

  1. I’m cheap. I realize fast food is generally cheap, too, but it’s one of those things that I really don’t need. I mean, I have food at home that can be made into a meal, so why?
  2. I’m a really good cook. Seriously. Even my toddler thinks so and I think that’s a pretty verifiable stamp of approval.

Still, sometimes, the drive-thru is the best option. In a time crunch or on the road, or both, and the nearest fast food chain can be your best friend.

Only, the fast food chains (or fast casual — I’m looking at you, Chipotle) to which I’m willing to give my money are getting fewer and farther between.

Yesterday, Subway announced that, beginning in 2016, they would only serve meats that have never received antibiotics.

Obviously, my first concern is the announcement itself, and here’s why:

  • Consumers don’t have to worry about antibiotics in their meat because there aren’t any. That’s right. None. Now, it is true that Subway announced they wouldn’t source meat that had ever been treated with antibiotics and that’s an important distinction, which I’ll address in a minute. I just think it’s important to note that they’re addressing a problem that isn’t really a problem.
  • Now, about the “meats that have never received antibiotics.” For me, there’s a big problem in that statement. By saying they’re only going source meat from animals who have never received antibiotics, Subway is effectively saying farmers aren’t allowed to treat sick animals. Think about that for a minute. They’re telling farmers that a cow, pig, turkey or chicken who is sick and in distress shouldn’t be treated and cared for because, if it is, that animal’s meat is no longer worth buying, despite the fact that the FDA strictly controls and tests for antibiotics, ensuring antibiotics are never present anyway. They’re saying that animal isn’t worth the time or effort. And, I’m sorry, but that just breaks my heart because I see a company that is unwilling to balance misinformation against what’s best for these guys: Nebraska 13 Nebraska 9

Now, for the second part of this mess: Subway was deleting comments on Facebook from farmers expressing their disappointment. I would understand if Subway’s marketing folks were deleting inappropriate or inflammatory comments. I realize it’s social media and people tend to think they can say whatever they want, but I will never be in favor of being rude, disrespectful or mean-spirited, regardless of whether you’re speaking face-to-face or from behind a computer screen.

But these comments, well, they certainly weren’t that. For now, it seems like Subway has decided that’s not the way to go (probably because so many farmers took to their own, personal accounts to advertise the fact that Subway was deleting their comments), but their early actions to answer opposition simply by removing it doesn’t bode well for their claim that they listen to customers’ concerns.

Here’s a sampling of what Subway has since decided to allow on their Facebook page. As far as I can see, these look pretty reasonable to me. Firm, but reasonable. For a taste of what was deleted, check out Ryan Goodman’s blog at Agriculture Proud.

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Check out these comments on Subway’s Facebook page from Illinois farmers Kirk Builta and Tara Bohnert Yoder. Way to represent, guys!

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And here’s the real kicker: now that they’ve decided to allow comments from those with opposing views, they’re ignoring them, choosing only to respond to those in favor of their changes. Perhaps their marketing team should have come up with some responses for both views, because the silent treatment isn’t doing them any good, either.

Screen Shot 4Bummer. I like Subway. Affordable and not deep-fried. I don’t agree with their decision, but I certainly don’t appreciate their choice to try to silence respectful dissention. So, I guess that means it’s time to break up:

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Oh well. There’s a Jimmy John’s in town, too.

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It’s time for another edition of the Weekly Round Up (Friday the 13th Edition!). This week’s cool stuff:

  • This meme. Because, obviously. Ewe
  • This blog, from our friend Katie and Rural Route 2: The life and times of an Illinois farm girl. As always, Katie takes a topic with a lot of heat around it and makes it easy to read and easy to understand. Well worth your time.
  • This, because the information is awesome!Milk Safethy
  • This story, from the NY Times. It’s long, but such a good read. If you’re not familiar with the rodeo or ranching life, it’s an awesome inside look.
  • And this. Because, well, that’s Illinois in March.  Weather in Illinois
  • This blog, which does an excellent job of explaining the difference between organic and conventionally raised crops.
  • And this final infographic. Again, it provides great information and answer so many questions!Antibiotic Use

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Oh my gosh, you guys. It’s March. How did that happen?

Time for the Weekly Round Up – March 6 edition. There was some really good stuff this week, so check it out:

  • This story from CBS Evening News. It’s old — really old. In fact, it was originally reported in 1978 by Charles Kuralt, and for some reason, CBS Evening News decided to repost it yesterday. It’s an awesome story. Seriously awesome.
  • Also yesterday, ABC News posted this story about an FDA study which recent found that there’s little evidence of antibiotics in milk. No surprise to Illinois’ dairy farmers, but might be surprising to some consumers. From the story by the Associated Press:

“In an encouraging development for consumers worried about antibiotics in their milk, a new Food and Drug Administration study showed little evidence of drug contamination after surveying almost 2,000 dairy farmers.

In response to concerns, the agency in 2012 took samples of raw milk from the farms and tested them for 31 drugs, almost all of them antibiotics. Results released by the agency Thursday show that less than 1 percent of the total samples showed illegal drug residue.”

  • This. I love this because it’s so true. Snooze Button
  • A few months ago, Bill Nye the Science Guy (I love him!) took a stance on GMOs. He didn’t say they were bad, necessarily, but he did say he felt like they hadn’t been around long enough for him to say, definitively, they were safe. This week, he modified his opinion on GMOs to say that he supports the science after learning more about it:
  • I’m also a big fan of this. It’s something that farmers live by, but something that people outside the farm don’t always realize. Lady
  • And one last one. Good info. Just for you. Did You Know

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For Eddie Hornbostel of Randolph County, the key to success is one simple word: Diversification.

What started as a few enjoyable 4-H projects on his grandfather’s farm has now blossomed into a full-fledged farming operation, complete with dairy cattle, soybeans, alfalfa and corn.

Like many farmers today, Eddie has chosen to diversify his operation as much as possible to take advantage of every possible market and sector. But he doesn’t just do it because it makes good business sense — he’s chosen to diversify because he loves it.

“For me, the diversification is very enjoyable,” Eddie said. “You never know what you might be doing. I like the diversification because it throws some excitement into your day. And I like doing the dairy and livestock stuff. There aren’t as many of us out there anymore. Driving through our county, I remember several farmers who used to milk, now there’s only nine dairies left in our county. And there are very few beef and hog operations, too. I guess I like it because there are not as many of us so folks depend on us.”

And depend on him, we do. In 2013, Illinois dairy farmers produced 1.879 billion pounds of milk. And Eddie does everything he can to ensure the milk that leaves his farm is safe and ready for consumers.

“Our milk is tested every day or every other day,” Eddie said. “Our milk goes from the milk tank to the dairy every other day. We really have to watch our Ps and Qs because, if we screw up and feed something to the cow, like an antibiotic, and it ruins a tank of milk, it costs me and it costs the dairy. Some people think I can just do anything I want, but if I put anything in that cow, it’s going to show up in the milk tank. Our milk is as safe as it can get. In fact, I wouldn’t want my food to come from any other country.”

Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

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Here’s the thing: I love Chipotle.

I’m not proud of it. In fact, every time I carry my burrito bowl topped with that fresh pico and delicious carnitas out the door, I always feel like I’m betraying my agricultural family. Not because I don’t believe in naturally raised meat — that’s not it at all. I think farmers raising organic and naturally raised animals have clearly filled a niche worth filling and that’s excellent. No, I always feel guilty because Chipotle has taken that niche market of naturally raised meat and used it to denigrate conventionally produced meat.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: I think the naturally raised meat and the conventionally raised meat taste just the same. The only reason I like Chipotle is because of the way they prepare the food — not the way it was raised.

Still, Chipotle stands by the mantra that antibiotic-free, naturally raised meat tastes better. And they sell that mantra by the bushel to their customers. But that sales pitch may be coming to an end due to beef supply shortages.

This sign, posted at my local Chipotle, announces the supply shortages the chain is facing. Just this week, Chipotle announced it would consider sourcing cattle previously treated with antibiotics to combat the shortages.

This sign, posted at my local Chipotle, announces the supply shortages the chain is facing. Just this week, Chipotle announced it would consider sourcing cattle previously treated with antibiotics to combat the shortages.

In an article by Bloomberg News, Chipotle execs say they may start allowing some antibiotic-treated beef into their supply chain. Which is, no doubt, a good thing. After all, those of us who work in production agriculture know that animals treated with antibiotics aren’t any different from those that aren’t. And having a chain like Chipotle, which has taken a hard-line stance against any kind of antibiotic use, give its blessing to more conventionally raised meat is a step in the right direction.

Bloomberg’s article is a different story.

“Many experts, including some of our ranchers, believe that animals should be allowed to be treated if they are ill and remain in the herd,” Co-Chief Executive Officer Steve Ells said today in an e-mailed statement. “We are certainly willing to consider this change, but we are continuing to evaluate what’s best for our customers, our suppliers and the animals.”

If Chipotle allows sick animals treated with antibiotics to remain in its supply chain, it will increase the amount of beef available to the company, said John Nalivka, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture economist and president of commodity researcher Sterling Marketing Inc. in Vale, Oregon.

What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like animals given antibiotics — even if it is just to treat an illness — must be teeming with drugs the minute they enter the supply chain. In the words of my sister, “They make it sound like that meat has been marinating in antibiotics.”

It’s unfortunate that the article comes off that way, especially because that’s just not the way antibiotics in food animals work. So, here are just a few things you need to know about antibiotics and your food:

  • Before beef, pork or milk is sent to the grocery stores or restaurants, it’s tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to make sure there are no antibiotic residues.
  • Just like you treat your kids with antibiotics when they’re sick, farmers treat their animals with antibiotics when they’re sick. They do it because it’s humane and, simply, the right thing to do.
  • Drug withdrawal times must be strictly observed. In other words, farmers must monitor withdrawal times on drugs, ranging from hours to days, before sending an animal to market.
  • Farmers only give animals antibiotics under the guidance of a veterinarian. Just like a doctor advises you on dosage and the amount of time to take a medication, veterinarians do the same with farmers’ animals.
  • The FDA does not approve the use of antibiotics until they undergo a vigorous review for safety to animals, humans, and the environment.  The FDA approval process ensures that food products from animals treated with antibiotics are safe.
  • Farm organizations have procedures and programs in place to help farmers use antibiotics safely.  For example, the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program, which emphasizes judicious and strategic use of antibiotics, has been in place since 1989.
  • Antibiotics are important in animal medicine, just like in human medicine, helping to maintain animal health and reduce suffering from disease. When you calculate the number and size of food-producing animals, the use of antibiotics in animals approximates the use of antibiotics in humans.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can find plenty of good, reliable information on antibiotics in food animals here, here, here, and here.

At any rate, cheers to Chipotle. I hope this foray, even if it is only a trial run, turns into a long-term thing and shows Chipotle just how caring, conscientious and careful ‘traditional’ farmers are.

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By now you might be aware of some messaging that’s appearing on Chipotle Mexican Grill’s carryout bags.  In case you haven’t seen it, here it is:

In case you can’t quite make it out, here’s what it says:

“Okay Pigs, it’s time for us to get together and start fixing this system.  We see the way that our pig friends get treated at their factory farms and it’s time we fight so all pigs can have the same rights we have!  No more tight, confining pens!  No more antibiotics or non-vegetarian feed!!!!!!! We can do it!  Yours truly, el Pig.”

If you go to Chipotle’s website, and click the little graphic of a string at the bottom of the page, it will reveal some of its “Food With Integrity” program, which details how and where they get their meats and vegetables.  Included is a scrolling picture gallery, trumpeting what their ‘naturally raised’ pigs look like.  Trouble is, predictably, they don’t give you all the information.

Picture #1 (caption): “Naturally raised pigs get to hang out with other pigs and do outside pig stuff (which is fun)”

What’s missing:        “…including come into contact with pathogens, parasites, predators and extreme weather variations that could make them sick or injured (which is NOT fun)”

Picture #2 (caption): “They eat all natural vegetarian food (which is delicious)”

What’s missing:        “…as they do on nearly all farms, including conventional.  Pigs are just like us—they eat anything.  But what’s best for them is a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal.  To imply they get that only at certain ‘Chipotle-approved’ farms is not accurate”

Picture #3 (caption): “They are allowed to display their natural instincts (which is good)”

What’s missing:        “…including rolling over onto just born or nursing piglets (which is bad).  That’s why responsible producers keep sows in gestation and farrowing stalls just before and after giving birth, in order to protect the piglets”

Picture #4 (caption): “They also get to sleep in deeply bedded pens (which are comfortable).”

What’s missing:        “…of course, the deeply bedded pens are comfortable, but in winter, they don’t provide nearly as much protection and safety as a heated indoor facility.  With deep bedding, the pigs will also pile on top of each other to stay warm, and that could cause injuries and suffocation”

On the bag:               “No more antibiotics!” 

What’s missing:        “Which means all those pathogens they encounter while doing ‘outside pig stuff’ can make them sick, and if they fight each other or get attacked by a predator, their wounds will be left to heal naturally, if they heal at all!” 

The Chipotle website also predictably promotes the one-sided works of Michael Pollan, and the book The Righteous Pork Chop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms.  The title alone should clue you in as to how fair that book is.

Once again, a company tries to make a splash by implying you’re morally superior if you eat their food; however, we’ve seen time and again it’s just a marketing tactic.  Chipotle, in providing misinformation about where the world’s safest, most affordable and most abundant food supply comes from, is no different.

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