As a public health veterinarian, I am concerned that a campaign such as “Meat without Drugs” could result in “Animals without Health”. A new report from Consumer Reports provides some public opinion data that are not surprising.
Given the constant drumbeat about the “overuse” of antibiotics in livestock production, consumers are frightened and convinced that there is a problem. One problem is that opinion polls and secret shopper surveys of labels are not scientific risk assessments.
All peer-reviewed scientific risk assessments have demonstrated a negligible risk of human health harm due to livestock antibiotic use.
I think the bigger problem is that a campaign such as “Meat without Drugs” could mean that veterinarians have no way to treat sick animals or prevent epidemic diseases. It is not possible to raise children without antibiotics.
How do people expect us to raise these baby chicks, piglets and calves into wholesome meat, dairy and egg products without the assistance of modern medicine? Actually, most of the antibiotics used on the farm are not the modern cutting edge products used by your local pediatrician.
Do the consumers and Consumer Reports know what happens to sick animals on organic farms, which produce animals without antibiotics? The veterinarian does not just give them some chamomile tea and send them to bed! No, often they go untreated, hoping to get better. If that does not work then they may be treated (reluctantly) and then moved into a non-antibiotic-free group, maybe in the same barn.
If they do shed some antibiotic resistant organisms, they are easily shared with their organic neighbors. But the worst part is they may go untreated. Once an ill animal is noted by the farmer, it has likely been sick for a while. There is little time left to treat before it dies. This waiting or denial of treatment is inhumane.