let's talk farm animals

Perceptions of Antibiotic Free Meat

By Jean L Clavelle

There has been much discussion lately on social media sites regarding marketing and how perceptions can be easily manipulated.  One such topic is that of antibiotic free meat (AFM) where animals produced for food are never treated with antibiotics.  It involves consumer health, animal health, medical drug prescriptions, animal management and more – all highly charged emotional topics.

Much of this discussion revolves around the concern for human health and that antibiotic use in livestock may result in a public health risk due to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans.   The implication being that AFM is a healthier option for humans.  The scientific component is a complicated one and has been debated at length in scientific journals and trade publications not to mention social media.  I won’t discuss it here as its more than one blog can adequately cover in a sitting.

One element that is often overlooked is that of animal welfare and the moral issue of raising AFM although I have seen it used as a marketing (dare I say) gimmick by many retail and food services organizations.  Antibiotics are products used by both humans and animals to prevent and treat disease illness and suffering.  We had previously discussed the definition of animal welfare (http://www.letstalkfarmanimals.ca/2013/07/25/do-you-know-what-animal-welfare-really-means/) and an important element of welfare is freedom from pain injury or disease by rapid diagnosis and treatment.  If we examine the exact nature of an AFM production system would it be considered inhumane?  Under this system animals cannot be treated for illness or disease if they are to be sold into this market.  Which is fine.  Until an animal falls ill.  And it will happen just as you or I might succumb to an illness despite our best efforts which can only be treated with antibiotics.  Good animal welfare and animal management dictates that sick animals be treated or if that’s not possible euthanized.  Just like we would want ourselves and our loved ones to receive treatment.

If farms are to produce animals under the AFM system they essentially require two production streams in order to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering.  One where animals remain healthy that can be sold for a premium into the AFM market and the other, where those animals that do become sick are treated and then sold into the conventional market.  Canadian beef producers are excellent at their jobs regardless of what production system they use and I don’t want to challenge that point.  However for the general public to insist that AFM animals experience better welfare simply because the producer doesn’t use antibiotics is well, wrong.

Now, this is not to say that we as an industry should not practice judicious use of antibiotics, just the opposite.  The industry must continue to follow the recommendations and council of a veterinarian, use medications only as they are prescribed and ensure a strict adherence to withdrawal times.  It is essential that everyone in the beef industry and the general population alike are aware of the seriousness of improper use of antibiotics.  However can restaurants, supermarkets, or we as consumers argue that antibiotic free meat is a morally superior choice if it comes as the cost of animal suffering and mortality?  What do you think?




Posted by FACS on October 28th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal cruelty,Animal health,Animal welfare,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Canada,Social media,Uncategorized
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