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Antibiotics move draws fire, applause

BY GABRIELLA DUNN | DECEMBER 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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The U.S. Food and Drug Admiration announced a voluntary plan on Wednesday to begin phasing out the use of certain antibiotics in livestock animals, and area people are split about the announcement.

Antibiotics are commonly added to the feed or drinking water of livestock to promote faster weight gain and prevent disease.

Issues with widespread use of antibiotics in livestock, said Christopher Atchison, director of the State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa, are similar to antibiotic issues for humans as well.

Using pharmaceuticals for their direct purpose they were designed for, he said, is vital in maintaining their effectiveness over time.

“The issue is the infectious agent — the bacteria or organism — develops a resistance to the antibiotic,” Atchison said. “Consequently, the use of that antibiotic becomes less effective than it was before from the simple evolution of the bacteria.”

The responsibility of the FDA, Atchison said, is to be vigilant in assessing new threats to the nations food supply, with this initiative being a result of that responsibility.

“There is concern that the use of antibiotics, generally, without good regulation, can diminish the value of antibiotics in treating the conditions that they were developed to treat,” Atchison said.

“Recommendations and guidance regarding the proper use of antibiotics is a fundamental piece of public-health recommendations at this point.”

Local farmer Steve Swenka doesn’t think the use of antibiotics is a problem. Swenka said he uses antibiotics in his cattle feed during high stress times of the year, with the end goal of making the animals healthier.

“Healthy livestock is way better for the consumer than unhealthy livestock,” Swenka said. “If they want to require people to keep more detailed records or have them prescribed through their veterinarian, maybe those are things to consider, but simply banning it is not the answer.”

From an economic standpoint, Swenka said, it would be impractical to use antibiotics when they’re not needed. In addition, he said protocols are in place to ensure antibiotic use is safe for meat consumption.

Ben Partridge, marketing coordinator for New Pioneer Co-Op, said its inspection process ensures its meat has not been treated with antibiotics, hormones, steroids, or added nitrates.

“For us, we’ve been a mission-driven business that hopes to pioneer these practices,” Partridge said. “It’s great that people are starting to catch up … we’re just happy that it’s happening.”

Although the New Pioneer Co-Op believes antibiotic-free meat is beneficial for consumers, one Iowa veterinarian said there are other consequences with organic livestock.

Virgil Bourek, a veterinarian at the Animal Health Clinic in Dyersville, Iowa, said there are different problems that arise with organic producers because even when their livestock do get sick, those farmers do not treat the animals with antibiotics because of organic standards.

“What about the suffering of these animals that occurs because of these diseases?” Bourek said. “You just let these animals die. When people look at organic, they think this is so wholesome, but what about animal suffering?”

In terms of effect on traditional grocery stores, Hy-Vee public-relations director Ruth Comer said she does not anticipate supermarket chain being negatively affected. 

“Our customers trust that we have quality beef products and that we work with reputable suppliers, so we already bring them the best quality meats out there,” Comer said. “Some customers want organic or all natural meats, so we have products for them, but it’s not a huge move in that direction.”


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