As a farmer, I hear all of the talk. I hear the conversations in the grocery store aisles, in line waiting for dinner. I see the stories on TV and the posts online, loaded with confusion and misinformation. Lately, I've heard a lot of talk about antibiotics used in livestock, but it's seemingly never in a positive light. Everyone wants products that have never been touched by antibiotics, even though they aren't a bad thing.
I promise you read that right; antibiotics aren't bad. Let me clear the air around livestock and antibiotics.
Let's start with the basics, what is an antibiotic.
The basic definition of an antibiotic is a medicine (such as penicillin or its derivatives) that inhibits the growth of or destroys microorganisms. Just like humans, livestock sometimes needs medicine, and that's when antibiotics are used. Their most common uses are disease treatment, control, and prevention. They can also be used for nutritional efficiency to promote overall well being.
Are you sure they aren't a bad thing?
Is it bad for a human to take medicine when they get sick? Of course not! So why would it be a bad thing for animals to be treated when they're sick? Medicines used for livestock are heavily regulated by the FDA to ensure the well being of the animal. Producers have their animal's best interest at heart. We want any and all livestock we work with healthy, which is why we spend the time and money to keep them that way.
Is it dangerous to eat meat treated with antibiotics?
You are 100% safe to consume the meat of an animal that was once treated by an antibiotic. The real kicker? Unless you knew the animal's medical record, when initially processing the meat you wouldn't even be able to tell the medicine was ever used. That's because the strict laws producers are required to follow regarding withdrawal times.
A withdrawal time is the minimum time period from administering the last dose of medication and the production of meat or other animal-derived products. For example, if you're treating a dairy goat, and the withdrawal time is seven days, the goat may still be milked as needed in those first days after the last dosage of a drug, but the product must be destroyed. The earliest the livestock or livestock derived product, in this case, the milk, is eight whole days after the last treatment. This ensures there is no trace of the medicine in the product.
Then why do food companies and restaurant chains brag about their lack of use?
Sadly, some companies capitalize on misinformation. By making the public distrust the helpful medicines and labeling their products "antibiotic free," it draws consumers in and allows them to keep their price point. It's all about business and the big bucks.
Don't get swept up in the anti-antibiotic movement. Spread positive talk and conversation. And don't be afraid to ask farmers questions; we're happy to answer!