With all of the scientific meetings I go to where industry issues are discussed often at very high levels with a lot of jargon, it’s always refreshing to read Anne Burkholder’s Feedyard Foodie blog where she boils down complicated issues into simple explanations. Burkholder owns Will Feed, Inc., a feedayrd in Cozad, Neb.  

Burkholder’s Dec. 13 column, “The Misunderstood,” revisits some questions she has had from readers and consumers about antibiotic use in animals. What makes her explanations so genuine is that rather having it come from a “spokesperson” she’s talking both from the heart and from what she does on her own operation day after day.

Read Burkholder’s explanations and take these great nuggets of truth and common sense for the next time you’re struggling to answer questions in an easy to digest manner.

From Anne Burkholder's "The Misunderstood":

  1.  How does the beef industry regulate itself relative to antibiotic use?  Cattlemen rely heavily on their consulting veterinarian for cattle health issues. I am in close contact with my vet and he guides me on animal health issues (both on preventative health programs and in the treatment of clinically sick animals). The Beef Quality Assurance program fosters this incredibly important relationship between cattle farmers and their vets, as well as providing further education on properly administering animal health products. Finally, all of the antibiotics that I use at the feed yard are licensed and regulated by the FDA and I am required by law to administer them according to the label instructions.
  2. How can consumers know that their beef contains no remnants or traces of antibiotics? It is illegal to send a food animal to harvest with any trace of an antibiotic in their system. You can feel confident that the beef that you are eating does not contain any antibiotic residues because cattle are tested at harvest for these residues, and if one does contain a residue then it is not allowed to enter the food chain. The percentage of cattle coming out of cattle finishing feed yards (like mine) containing residues is 0.000017% which statistically equates to zero.
  3. Are antibiotics routinely used as feed additives in cattle rations for the express purpose of growth promotion?  I do not feed antibiotics to my cattle for growth promoting purposes. I do, however, use a feed additive that is an ionophore to improve the health of the rumen (cattle are ruminate animals and have a digestive tract that includes a system of four stomachs). Ionophores are not classified by the FDA as antibiotics, and there is no product used in human health that contains anything remotely similar to an ionophore. It is, therefore, irrelevant in the discussion of antibiotic resistance.  An ionophore modifies the fermentation process in the rumen which allows the bovine to capture more energy from its feedstuffs while also reducing the amount of methane that it secretes.  This is a very important part of reducing the environmental footprint of my cattle (fewer resources are necessary to produce beef while the amount of methane that they secrete into the environment is also reduced).
  4. The explanation of ionophores brings me to the last question to address: Why is antibiotic use in cattle misunderstood by many consumers? I believe that there are two reasons that such a large misunderstanding exists regarding antibiotic use in cattle:
  • cattlemen (like me) do not do a good job communicating with you (the consumer) about the products that we use and the way that we use them, and
  • political activist groups incorrectly use statistics to scare consumers regarding antibiotic use in cattle. 

The bottom line is that I follow the Judicious Use of Antimicrobials that I listed in my recent post, I do my homework so that I understand the consequences of the decisions that I make regarding antibiotic use in my bovines, and I care about the issue of antibiotic resistance.