Battling Antibiotic Misconceptions

It’s been another week where antibiotic issues were prominently featured in the news. Perhaps you saw the news release from the Chipotle restaurant chain? The company says it is evaluating its policy when it comes to allowing the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals that may be in the company’s supply chain. Chipotle acknowledges that there are times when the company simply cannot obtain meat from animals that have not been raised completely antibiotic-free. When this situation occurs, Chipotle posts signs to let customers know that substitutions have been made. I’ve seen these signs in my local Chipotle.

Scott Hurd, DVM, regularly serves as a clear voice of reason when it comes to livestock antibiotic use. His blog this week directly addresses both the Chipotle stance and the recent anti-animal agriculture campaign waged by the Panera Bread restaurant chain in which livestock producers are accused of being lazy because of antibiotic use. He takes a look at research data to back up his statements about the lack of antibiotic residues in meat. His blog title says it all, “It’s All Antibiotic-Free, Baby!”

Chipotle explains that the company has considered new protocols, including one that would allow animals to be treated with antibiotics only when necessary for their continued health, but that protocol has not been implemented. At this time, Chipotle’s protocol allows the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals, but those animals must be removed from Chipotle’s supply chain.

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 “We are always looking to improve our protocols in order to ensure that we are buying the very best sustainably raised ingredients,” says Steve Ells, Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO. “Many experts, including some of our ranchers, believe that animals should be allowed to be treated if they are ill and remain in the herd. We are certainly willing to consider this change, but we are continuing to evaluate what’s best for our customers, our suppliers and the animals.”

When it comes to this antibiotic-free stance, Hurd says, “From a veterinary perspective, I am concerned with the internal struggle that the antibiotic-free (ABF) farmer must face. Most farmers get some premium for raising ABF meat, so if the animals get sick does the farmer treat and lose the financial benefits of ABF or wait a day or two? Waiting can increase mortality and spread of infectious disease significantly. What about the veterinarian, who has taken an oath to prevent animal suffering, but management will only let him treat a small percentage of the barns? Can these restaurateurs really argue their ABF meat provides a better “conscience choice,” if it comes at the cost of additional mortality and animal suffering?”

Perfect point, once again, Dr. Hurd. What about the animals?

The August 15 issue of National Hog Farmer should be arriving in your mailbox, or email Inbox right about now. It is devoted to the topic of “Analyzing Antibiotic Use.” Do you have additional thoughts about antibiotic use? Do you have any comments to add to the mix? Leave your stories or thoughts in the “comments” section below, or email lora.berg@penton.com.

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