Antibiotics are a thing that makes our world go round. Scientific breakthroughs, like penicillin, helped thousands of people and eradicated many bacterial diseases in both humans and animals. As a society, we are healthier thanks to antibiotics. They are one of the biggest reasons that age expectancy is closer to 80 than 40. Despite all these amazing breakthroughs, many modern farms have chosen to go completely antibiotic free in order to be healthier for the consumer. You can see the words "antibiotic free" and "raised without antibiotics" written on a substantial amount of food products in grocery stores in big earthy prints. Doesn't this just sound great?
Think about how amazing this is. Now, when a farmer goes out to check on his cattle and notices one is sick, he can't do anything for it. All that he can do is seclude it from the rest of the herd, and hope it gets better on its own. Doesn't this sound fantastic? An animal that the farmer has grown attached to, cared for and put thousands of dollars into is going to die in front of his eyes because the general population wants antibiotic free meat. This is such innovative thinking! A diseased animal could be easily treated, released back into the herd and live a healthy life, but we have instead decided not to treat them! We now just watch them suffer! The best part is that organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are for these measures because we aren't "pumping animals full of drugs" anymore! Guys, this is just great!
It is here my sarcasm ends. Seeing "antibiotic free" written on foods should be infuriating. I get it; consumers are worried about what is in their diet. They are generations away from the farm and don't quite understand what we do. Let me explain. Agricultural products are vigorously tested for antibiotics and diseases to make sure they are healthy to the consumer. Growing up on a dairy farm, I witnessed first hand this process. If an animal got sick, my dad kept track of when he treated the cow, and how long it would have to be before the milk could be used again. All medicines had to be out of the animal's system before her milk could be put in the tank with the rest of it. When the milk truck came to take our milk, the driver would test the milk for antibiotics before he ever took it away. If we accidentally put the treated cow's milk into the tank, the whole tank had to be dumped down the drain. Otherwise, we would face significant repercussions from the company we sold our milk to. No milk in any grocery store has antibiotics in it.
However, there are now many companies that are forcing their farmers to never use antibiotics so they can write "antibiotic free" on the label. Animals are suffering and dying every day because the new fad says that antibiotics are a bad thing to use. For a moment, let's ignore the fact that it's inhumane. Let's think about how this affects the environment. Cows are known to burp methane, which is considered to be harmful to the environment. It's hard to do anything about it, simply because that is the cow's natural biological function.
Studies vary on how much methane a cow produces a day, but most will conclude somewhere between 26-53 gallons a day. For this article, we will be conservative and say 28 gallons. In 2015, 28.74 million cows were butchered for meat. Let's approximate a mere one percent of cows die in a herd due to lack of treatment by antibiotics, so we have to keep another 2.87 million cows around to meet demand for beef products. That would be an extra 8.04 million gallons of methane a day, or 2.93 billion gallons of methane every year, going into our atmosphere, simply because people are too scared to trust a farmer to use medicine on their herd. In actuality, I would expect that number to be significantly higher in practice.
Other animals would have a similar impact on our environment and economy. Producing extra pigs and chickens to meet demand would mean more grain would go toward animal production than it currently does. You could expect your food prices to shoot up significantly. When demand stays the same but supply decreases, prices go up. Farmers will also have to pay more for their feed, so you will see meat prices increase.
I don't know exactly how much more I can say about antibiotic-free animal products. They are inhumane, harmful for the environment, and bad for the economy. I would highly encourage everyone to think twice about the food they are buying and the labels that are on it, especially in regards to antibiotics. Going "antibiotic free" is a practice that needs to be eradicated immediately.