How do you create a recipe for eliminating or substantially reducing antibiotics on today’s modern farms?
I’d give it:
1 part activism (booooo!)
3 parts improved technology that allows farmers to do this better than previous years
1 part realizing there’s a problem that needs to be addressed
2 part government mandates and stricter regulations
There are a number of factors that help farmers and ranchers no longer need to use antibiotics, however, they are still a very important tool for animal health if they’re needed. Farmers don’t want to use them, especially since they can be a pain to administer and can be very expensive, but also, the FDA has cracked down on usage through different regulations like the VFD which I’ve written about extensively here. (You can also read further about the topic of resistance here.)
There is a lot of misinformation about livestock antibiotics on the internet, particularly from animal-rights groups or clickbait-type headlines, but it’s so important to ask actual farmers and veterinarians about this topic. Lately, some of the nation’s largest poultry producers such as Tyson Foods and Perdue are able to raise livestock with no antibiotics ever. I, however, had a conversation with a large-scale commercial poultry producer lately who did need to use antibiotics on his entire flock. He needed tetracycline, and, in order to get it, he had to work very closely with his team of veterinarians and the corporation he produces for. Getting this antibiotic was so difficult that the request was escalated all the way up to the CEO of the company. It was a huge pain in the butt for him to treat his flock, but a requirement by law.
I recently had a similar situation happen to me. My sheep herd is not terribly large (I have about 60 ewes), and one of my lambs was sick, so I needed a prescription for Bo-Se (Selenium and vitamin E). Bo-Se is used to treat white muscle disease and is one of the more common diseases is lambs. But still … I have only had to treat 1 lamb with it out of around 80 lambs or so. So antibiotics are very rarely needed but are a very important tool.
I rushed down to my vet to get a script, but they were sold out of the product. So, I rushed over to the other vet to see if they had it, but they wouldn’t sell it to me, which was kinda frustrating. Now, keep in mind living in an area so rural, these vet offices are about 45 minutes away from each other, and the closest vet office is a half hour from me — so it’s a lot of driving!
Somewhat annoyed, I asked the vet why I couldn’t get it. I only needed one dose, a half cc. They explained if you give more than 1 dose they can sometimes die, (yes, I know that) and that the law requires they had to have been to our farm within the last six months. Since they hadn’t been to our farm, they could not legally write me a prescription. Come on! We are talking a matter of life and death here for this lamb! So many government regulations — this is why we can’t have nice things.
I called my primary vet back, and he was able to get me some that afternoon from his truck since he knows my farm much better and makes visits to us. He sits on the board for the Iowa vet med association and explained that the laws had changed and Iowa code 155 or 147 requires these prescription meds only be distributed to a distributor/pharmacy with an on-staff licensed pharmacist. A pain in the butt, but a law we will follow. Vets, farmers, feed mills, corporations, and others will obey these laws. It is never worth getting your license revoked or going out of business for not obeying the rules.
America has very strict standards for both livestock and human medicine, especially compared to other countries where prescription drugs are all available over the counter. And keep in mind, if antibiotics are used on livestock that the animal must go through a withdrawal period before it can legally go to market, which means all meat and dairy products are in fact antibiotic free! So, before you go believing some random internet article claiming meat is loaded with antibiotics or that farmers are willy-billy just pumping our animals with a bunch of expensive meds, think critically and ask real farmers and livestock veterinarians. For more info, you can also visit www.animalantibiotics.org with Dr. Leah Dorman, who’s one of my favorite vets on social media.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.