Antibiotics and Agriculture

I prefer to buy local food whenever possible. I do it for a variety of reasons. Some of them are environmental – the closer to home my food is produced, the less carbon emitted getting it to me. Some of them are economical – gardening and buying in season are cheap. Some of them are about flavour – fresher food tastes better. And some of them are ideological – I like the idea of supporting my local community, including its farmers.

One of the biggest reasons that I like to buy local is that I can talk to the people who produce my food. Obviously, if I grow something myself, I know a lot about it. But I am far from being food independent. I buy the majority of my food, including all of my meat, eggs and dairy. I do not have my own chickens or cows, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And when I’m buying animal products like these, I have particular concerns. I want to know that the animals were treated humanely, and that the food is safe for my family to eat.

Why would I be worried about food safety? Because 70% of antibiotics in the US are used on food animals. Some estimates indicate that 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics are used sub-therapeutically in the US each year, in order to keep animals healthy and help them to grow faster. These animals aren’t sick, but they are crowded together in unsanitary conditions, so disease is an issue. Dosing animals with antibiotics is cheaper than providing them with more space or allowing them more time to mature, so the antibiotics are used.

The problem with routinely dosing animals with antibiotics is that it contributes to antibiotic resistance. A big ad campaign has been running locally, advising us that ‘not all bugs need drugs‘. The point is that using antibiotics unnecessarily, like to treat a flu virus that won’t respond to them, can lead to bacteria evolving a resistance to the drug. New strains are created that can’t be killed with certain antibiotics, and then when people become ill from the bacteria there are no treatment options. So humans are advised to use antibiotics judiciously and to always finish our whole prescription, to avoid contributing to the creation of super bugs.

The issue is that we might be only a small part of the problem. The super bug MRSA was found in the nasal passages of 70% of pigs on some Iowa farms. Chickens may carry drug-resistant salmonella. And cattle may carry drug-resistant E. coli. These bacteria can lead to humans, in turn, becoming sick and even dying. Particularly immune-compromised people, young children or the elderly. We might not be exposed to sick people, but when we eat we may be regularly exposed to sick animals.

Obviously, the use of antibiotics in agriculture is a complex issue. But it concerns me. I don’t want my family to be exposed to dangerous bacteria. And I don’t want cost to placed ahead of the health and safe treatment of the animals that provide me with food. I am willing to pay more for meat and eggs that are safe, and that come from healthy and happy animals.

One way to ensure that your food animals have not been treated routinely with antibiotics is to buy organic. Certified organic food may not contain synthetic chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. I do buy organic frequently, myself. But I think that an even better way is to get to know the farmer. Ask questions, visit the farm, see the animals. The beef that I buy isn’t certified organic, but the cows are grass-fed on an open range. For me, that first-hand knowledge is more important than a certification label.

When I consider the magnitude of the problems confronting our present food system, I can feel overwhelmed. But it’s heartening to know that I can still choose what I eat, and what I feed my family. I can vote with my dollars in support of a better way. And so I do, as much as possible. I visit my farmer’s market, and farm stands, and I garden. It’s my vote against super bugs, if you will.

What about you? Were you aware of how many antibiotics are used in agriculture? Does that alarm you, or does it reassure you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

PS – May’s Crafting my Life series is about recognizing our innate awesomeness. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 27th, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post on this month’s theme anytime in May, or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Then read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

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    Comments

    1. The more I educate myself about where our food comes from, the more frightened I am by the food industry. It seriously makes me want to go join a commune with other families, grow our own food, and be self-sufficient ;) I have been researching how to get safer meat – of course the big issue for us (and many families) is the price. Eating healthy meat is easily *at least* 3-5 times more expensive than picking meat up at big chain grocery stores. I’m not sure how to get around that yet.
      .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last post ..Breastfeeding and Bathrooms Do Not Mix =-.

    2. Local is always my aim but I confess to not being a huge organic label watcher. I feel that buying organic lettuce from California defeats the purpose so I go for local in the summer and go without in the winter.

      I love farmers markets but also frequent my own local greengrocers always on the lookout for local produce.

      I also “try” to get us to eat low to the ground, and while we eat meat, I try to minimize pre-packaged anything. I’m even soaking beans now, something I had a mental block about for years.

      Keep up the good fight Amber!

    3. I didn’t become aware of this issue until I became a Mom. Apparently I don’t care too much about MY health. But my baby?? That’s a different story. I prefer to buy organic, but sometimes my wallet won’t allow me to do that as often as I’d like. Sometimes I skip buying the produce all together and wait until I have the cash. The meat is a littler harder. I do enjoy grass-fed beef though.

      I think there needs to be more awareness about this topic, especially with meats.

      I’m curious, does Canada have rules about organic seafood? I read that Europe does, but here in the US there is no such thing.
      .-= Sara´s last post ..Baby it’s hot outside… =-.

      • I don’t think that I’ve seen organic seafood, come to think of it. I’ve definitely seen wild / farmed seafood. And my local grocery store uses the ‘Ocean Wise’ label, which indicates it’s been sustainably harvested. But organic, not so much.

        Personally, I usually opt for Ocean Wise, wild seafood. It might not have the organic label, but if it’s wild it’s even better.

    4. I’ve known about the hormones/antibiotics for a long time, I’ve worked on several farms, I got my first job on a farm when I was 12 years old. I guess that’s one of the joys of growing up in east central Illinois (US). When I was in undergrad I ran the business side of a cattle ranch. There’s no way we could have afforded the organic label, but our meat was hormone & antibiotic free, free range belgian blue cattle. It is amazing beef. I figure most small farmers can’t afford the label so I talk to them about their practices and if they meet my standards I buy from them.

      We tend to buy in bulk from the farmers directly to save money. We don’t eat as much meat as the average American though. In the winter we eat more meat than the other seasons usually 4-5 meals a week. The Spring/Fall we do 2-3 meals a week. In the Summer we usually only eat meat if we aren’t eating at home. If we run out and I have to buy meat from the store I just have to deal with the price of the “organic” meats. Meats with hormones & antibiotics just aren’t an option for us as my husband has a severe allergic reaction to them.

    5. While we were living in France, there was a sense of freedom for me with respect to food shopping. Markets were plentiful (one every day in the region except for Mondays), and while there were clearly some people importing produce, there were many local producers, too. Fresh food, all the time. And it was food that was clearly in season (from France, or Spain or another close country) – only at Christmas did they bring in a lot of exotic fruits from around the world to the local supermarkets. And antibiotics and such in meat is banned by law, so there wasn’t that worry.

      There was also a distinct and noticeable reduction in salt in pretty much everything, from my non-expert comparisons of Canada to France products, even with the same food manufacturer. We detoxed from salt while there, and now that we are back in Canada, it can be a challenge to find reduced salt, or no-salt items, on the shelves of our rural Saskatchewan stores. While I don’t have much of a garden this year, you can bet that I’ll be knocking down people to get to the local farmers market on Friday mornings once it opens. That, and buying a half a beef from a local producer. ;)
      .-= Joy´s last post ..This list’s for you… =-.

    6. Our family is vegetarian so that takes care of any concerns over anti-biotics in meat. We only buy free range, organic eggs mainly for humane reasons. My one downfall is milk. I would like to buy organic, hormone free but we go through so much that the cost makes me cringe.

      My goal this summer is to visit farmer’s markets for veggies instead of buying at the grocery store. Hopefully this will encourage the family to eat more veggies (that and the fact we have our own garden started)
      .-= Carrie´s last post ..Salad in the making =-.

    7. The use of antibiotics and pesticides worries me quite a bit. It’s the reason I’ve been moving more and more towards local and/or organic food – including my own veggie patch. I am still considering buying meat direct from a local farm – although the storage of the meat is holding me back.
      .-= Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)´s last post ..Composting =-.

    8. I just read a long article about this too. I am now pretty sure it had something to do with the multitude of antibiotic-resistant UTIs I had in college.
      .-= bwsf´s last post ..In Case of Emergency =-.

    9. It freaks me out. Sometimes we we half a side of organic beef and organic chickens from our local organic farmer, but we’re not well-organized or rich enough to do it all the time. Like everything else, I worry about it uselessly more than I do anything concrete about it (except eating less meat).
      .-= allison´s last post ..****************Friday Sorta Funny =-.

    10. I am not sure how to find an organic local source for our meat. Legislation has made it so the “little guy” can’t sell meats without government inspection, so it has to get processed at the same big plants as everything else, thus taking away much of the appeal and low costs with buying direct from your neighbourhood hobbyfarm. A few years ago we bought a whole lamb all butchered and freezer packed for a very reasonable amount, and we saw the very field that it was raised in (a good — albiet short– life). Now a days such a transaction would be illegal, and that’s really a shame.
      .-= *pol´s last post ..We were there! =-.

    11. This has totally been on my mind lately. Not just antibiotics, but hormones. Thing is, I’ve been eating meat as long as I can remember. I’ve never checked to see if it was organic or not. I’ve just eaten it. Lately, I’ve been seriously playing with the idea of really cutting a lot of meat out of my diet but I’m not sure I CAN. *Where ‘can’ means- man it will be really hard to change the lifestyle that’s been in place since FOREVER. I wish I could find a wealth of easy, healthy recipes that don’t include a bunch of ingredients that I can’t find around here.
      .-= Jennifer´s last post ..Top 5 =-.

    12. Oh man, after seeing Food, Inc. I could not BELIEVE the crap we were eating. Actually, the part about the antibiotics and the hormones made me wonder if that’s why so many of women struggle with infertility these days. I also was intensely disgusted by them adding AMMONIA to the meat. Just gross, really gross.

      However, I haven’t quite mastered the skill of buying local yet. I really don’t know how. I started my research, and found a few local farms that offer co-op type programs, but it’s not something that the husband is willing to afford. My solution was to pay for the expensive Whole Foods meat, but cut down our overall meat consumption. That’s actually better anyway because I’m not even supposed to be eating chicken, pork, or beef now that I’m on this “Blood Type Diet.” Anyway – food is constantly on my mind these days.
      .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last post ..Behave on My Blog As You’d Behave In My House =-.

    13. I’ve been reading about families that go in on a whole cow – it gets (humanely) raised and butchered locally, and then two or more families get packets to tuck into a deep freeze and use up throughout the year. It seems like a good idea – bulk purchase, local and organic, all that stuff. But I don’t think I’m creative enough to cook all those different cuts, not at this point. Maybe as the kids get older . . .
      .-= Lady M´s last post ..Raising Polite Little Hoodlums =-.

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