The experiment to stop widespread use of antibiotics was launched 12 years ago, when European studies showed a link between animals who were consuming antibiotic feed every day and people developing antibiotic resistant infections from handling or eating that meat.
Since the ban, the Danish pork industry has grown by 43 percent -- making it one of the top exporters of pork in the world. All of Europe followed suit in 2006. But the American Pork Industry doesn't want to, as it raises the cost of producing pork by $5 more for every 100 pounds of pork brought to market.
Did you know that about 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture, to promote weight gain in the livestock?
This is a major issue, with significant human health ramifications.
This is actually one of the driving forces behind the alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, which kills more Americans than AIDS does each year.
Outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA opened discussions focused largely on reducing medical over-use of antibiotics and proper hygiene to reduce the spread of infectious disease. But little has been said about the rampant over-use of antibiotics in agriculture, which is likely the largest source of human antibiotic consumption, and hence increased antibiotic resistance.
Some of my readers have criticized my recommendations to continue eating meats as they’re an excellent source of essential proteins, completely forgetting that I ONLY recommend organic, grass-fed, free-range meats. And they really cannot be compared to conventionally farmed meats in terms of quality and nutritional content.
So, please, understand that any time I discuss meat consumption, it is with the explicit understanding that I only promote humanely raised, organically farmed livestock that have roamed free, feeding on their natural food source, without any use of antibiotics and other growth-promoting drugs typically used in conventional farming.
For more information about real meaning behind meat labels such as “free-range,” or “biodynamic,” please review this previous article.
Is the US Meat Industry Doomed to Failure if They Convert to Antibiotic-Free Farming?
As other countries and organic farmers in the US have already shown, the answer is unequivocally “no.”
As reported in the CBS piece above, despite reservations and gloomy predictions of how the pork industry might suffer when the Danish ban on antibiotics was initiated, they’ve all turned out to be false.
Rather than suffer, the Danish pork industry has grown by 43 percent since the ban was enacted 12 years ago.
But US industry officials still aren’t buying it, saying that cost increases negate some of the success. Says Liz Wagstrom, a a veterinarian with the National Pork Board:
“If we did the same thing in the United States, we would likely see small producers pushed out of business, we'd have more sick and dying pigs, and none of that would result in a benefit to the U.S. consumer."
How could healthier meat be of no benefit to the consumer? How could a reduction in antibiotic-resistant disease and a reduction in needless deaths be of “no benefit” to you, your family, and to the US health care system?
According to Couric’s report, it would only cost $5 more per 100 pounds of pork to produce it without the use of antibiotics. And you can buy antibiotic-free turkey thigh meat for a mere 20 cents more than its conventionally raised counterpart.
The industry focus on producing fast, cheap meats is definitely harming the health of American consumers, and as a consumer, you’re not really saving money either because you just end up footing the bill for health care costs later on.
Reduced Antibiotic Use in Farming PROVEN to Reduce Human Disease
Studies have shown that when you reduce the use of antibiotics in meat production, human disease caused by antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria is significantly reduced as well.
Couric mentions one such study in her article. When different countries introduced certain antibiotics on farms, a surge in people contracting antibiotic resistant intestinal infections occurred one to two years later. One type of infection, Campylobacter, increased 20 percent in Denmark and 70 percent in Spain.
After Denmark implemented its ban on antibiotics, a Danish study confirmed that it had drastically reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and food.
Australia also confirmed that after its ban on fluoroquinolones in all food animals, only two percent of Australian patients tested positive for the drug resistant strain of Campylobacter jejuni (a leading bacterial cause of food-borne illness that has exhibited drug-resistant strains), whereas the prevalence of drug resistance can be as high as 29 percent in countries that allow the use of fluoroquinolone.
And, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, bacteria from conventional chicken, and people who ate the chicken, became resistant to Synercid (a strong antibiotic used to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria) more often than the bacteria found in antibiotic-free chicken, or in vegetarians.
In fact, the study found it was rare to find drug-resistant bacteria among antibiotic-free chicken, while the majority of bacterial isolates from conventional poultry were resistant.
The study indicated that the use of antibiotics in poultry (in this case the antibiotics were used to promote growth) may harm humans' health in the long-term.
Additional Health Hazards from Conventionally Raised Meats, and the Superior Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef
Aside from the antibiotic problem, conventional chickens eat feed that is laced with pesticides, which may then be transferred to you.
This gives you all the more reason to seek out organic, free-range chicken (and other meats).
Organic, free-range, antibiotic-free chicken is less contaminated with bacteria, is free from pesticides, antibiotics and hormones, and is raised more humanely than conventional chicken.
Commercial beef usually comes from grain-fed cattle, which is nutritionally far less healthy for you than grass-fed cattle, and is also chock-full of hormones, antibiotics, and preservatives.
For an excellent look at how commercial meat is raised, please read California rancher Dave Evans’ article “Better Beef,” published in the March 2008 issue of Best Life magazine. It gives a great in-depth view of the many benefits of grass-fed beef, from environmental sustainability to the sheer difference in taste and nutrient content of the beef.
For example, grass-fed beef is lower in fat than regular beef and, more importantly, contains three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid, than grain-fed animals. CLA has been making headlines for its extreme health benefits, which include:
Antibiotic Use in Livestock Also Contaminates Other Food Sources!
An even lesser-known issue is the problem with antibiotic-laden manure from conventional farms further contaminating the rest of your food supply.
That’s right. Even your lettuce may contain antibiotics!
Researchers have discovered that food crops accumulate antibiotics from soil covered with antibiotic-containing manure. In one study, corn, lettuce and potatoes grown on soil containing manure from hogs raised with a commonly used antibiotic, had antibiotic in their leaves, tissue, and tubers.
The study suggests that root crops like carrots, radishes and potatoes may be particularly at risk of antibiotic accumulation.
Unfortunately, these findings also have implications for organic farmers, who often use manure as their main source of fertilizer. If they get their manure from conventionally-raised animals, they may inadvertently contaminate their crops with antibiotics.
So how can you ensure that the food you feed yourself and your family is pure and healthy?
Apart from growing it yourself, your best option is to get to know your local farmer -- one who uses non-toxic farming methods. If you live in an urban area, there are increasing numbers of community-supported agriculture programs available that offer access to healthy, locally grown foods even if you live in the heart of the city.
We have some meat vendors in our store, but you can eliminate the shipping charges if you can find a trusted local vendor.
Organic Farming Practices Make for Healthier Animals, Naturally
What many people don’t understand (including some health- and industry professionals, it would seem) is that organic farming practices naturally DECREASE the chances of disease-ridden livestock, and naturally promote better human health.
As McDonnell explains in the CBS article above, giving his turkeys more space, feeding them a healthy diet, and not stressing the animals by growing them too quickly with artificial means, causes his animals to be healthy AND well-sized. In fact, giving them sufficient amounts of space to roam is a natural growth promoter.
He too points out the fact that his 18 poultry farms are more profitable now than when he used antibiotics.
Fortunately, public health officials are slowly starting to pay attention to the larger issue at hand. FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner, Joshua Sharfstein, has said:
"We have identified here that we're talking about a public health issue, that the overuse of antibiotics on farms does pose a risk to human health."
CBS also reports that the FDA has, for the first time, come out against using certain antibiotics to promote growth in livestock. And pending legislation in Congress might ban some types of antibiotics from being administered to healthy farm animals.
Where’s the Healthy Beef?
However, until the US government gets all its ducks in a row, your best bet is simply to do whatever you can to ensure your family is eating clean, healthy meats. Yes, it requires you to pay attention and ask questions, but it’s well worth the effort.
If you don’t purchase safe meat from our store, nor have access to a local farmer, farmer’s market, or CSA program, I would encourage you to search for grass-fed beef ranchers in the United States that can ship good quality meats right to your door.