October 29, 2015

Antibiotics in Meat: Subway's Storm and the Aftermath

Recently a storm on Facebook and Twitter blew up over Subway's (the American chain) announcement that it was going to be selling meat from animals that "has never received antibiotics ever." I was happy to get involved in the storm, because I was well aware of the myths surrounding the fact that a) meat has antibiotics in it (which it does not), and b) antibiotics are important when having to treat sick animals, especially in large-scale operations. I can understand the concern surrounding feeding animals antibiotics at sub-therapeutic levels, but never had antibiotics ever? Outrageous!

Thanks to my follows to Agriculture Proud and Dairy Carrie bloggers Ryan Goodman and Carrie Mess, respectively, I was able to see how bad the situation had gotten last Thursday. I didn't get a chance to say something myself on Subway's page, but I was well aware of their consistent "need" to delete any messages that where a direct critique to their announcement. Some people messaged the page at least five times and got their messages deleted as many times. And to compound things--which I commend such efforts--several took to blogging about it and sharing their opinions and the fact of the matter far and wide.

But apparently Subway was actually listening to the farming community. A day or so later I learned that Subway changed its official announcement to acknowledge that antibiotics were important to animal health and welfare and that it supported efforts to ensure food safety. I and many others were relieved and happy to hear this news. It showed that even though the company's integrity may have been somewhat tarnished by its deleting of messages from those directly involved in the industry, it made up for it by acknowledging their mistake and realizing that the very people they rely on to supply the food they sell do the best job they can to give the best quality food as possible and are willing to go to great lengths to prove it. So, hats off to Subway for recognizing that, and especially to fellow agvocates and producers for getting the word out.

Now what really encouraged me to start up a post on this was a recent blog post on how producers where sharing their stories and how and why they were using antibiotics, so I thought I would jump in and write up a little something on that.

My folks bought and sold stocker/backgrounder cattle that where intended for the feedlot. It wasn't uncommon to get steers that came down with respiratory illness that often was a bacterial infection in nature. If I remember right, a long time ago most snotty-nosed or coughing steers would get a dose of LA 200 or Oxyvet as per directions on the bottle. But that wasn't always going to work as bacteria change and become a little tougher to target with just tetracycline. I don't think we got to the point where we lost one or two at the time, but they certainly weren't responding which is always a worry. Micotil was recommended by the vet to be the best, but that stuff is bloody expensive, and for the cost it certainly isn't nearly as broad-spectrum as what we were looking for. Nuflor was what we ended up treating a couple that didn't respond to either Oxy nor Micotil, and boy did that do the job. Nuflor ended up being the best go-to drug for shipping fever and pneumonia in our cattle until we couldn't raise them anymore after Dad passed away.

We've lost animals to sickness as well, no matter how hard we've tried to save them. It's heartbreaking to lose an animal we've worked so hard and given up other things that could've been done on the farm to try to save. Too often I hear people say producers don't care about their animals, yet when I saw my folks' faces when they realize they lost a steer I could see it hits them hard. You're always left thinking that you could've done better or should've done this or should've done that when in reality you did all you could and have to come to terms that the animal is no longer suffering. It sucks, there's no doubt about it.

I hear a lot of how farmers pump their animals so full of antibiotics, yet with the cost of a 500 mL bottle of Resflor or God forbid Draxxin, how can a farmer even afford to do so when they often have to dig deep into their pockets for an injectable drug that they need to save an animal? The fact that farmers are "filthy rich" and can afford the stuff is completely untrue, and is such a myth that obviously gives consumers reason to believe that farmers can "pump their animals so full of antibiotics."

Then there's the controversy and fears over antibiotics being in meat. Well, consumers needn't to fear because meat is antibiotic-free, and is supposed to be for food safety reasons. Thanks to withdrawal labels directly posted on the meds to be administered to livestock, and random testing at slaughter plants for antibiotic residue, the entire system ensures that meat is guaranteed antibiotic-free.

And with that, people shouldn't really have fear that the meat they eat is going to hurt them. Especially if they have to stop and quickly grab a Subway sandwich on the way to wherever they have to go.
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