CHICAGO, Ill. (Reuters) — Cargill is trimming the use of antibiotics in its cattle supply amid concerns among doctors and consumers about risks to humans from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The company started eliminating 20 percent of antibiotics deemed important for human medicine and farm animals from its four feed yards in Texas, Kansas and Colorado Feb. 26. It is making the same reductions at four feed yards operated by Friona Industries, which supplies Cargill with cattle.
The changes affect 1.2 million cattle a year, which represents 18 percent of the cattle Cargill processes, according to the company.
Cargill considered “customer and consumer desires to help ensure the long-term medical effectiveness of antibiotics for both people and animals,” said John Keating, president of Cargill’s beef business.
Public health advocates, along with lawmakers and scientists, have criticized the long-standing practice of using antibiotics in livestock. They argue that it is fueling the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Agribusinesses have defended the practice as necessary to help keep cattle, pigs and chickens healthy and increase production of meat for U.S. consumers.
In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released voluntary guidelines for drug makers and agricultural companies to phase out antibiotic use as a growth enhancer in livestock. The agency said antibiotics could still be used to treat illnesses in animals raised for meat but should otherwise be pared back by December 2016 under a program to keep them out of the human food supply.
Cargill does not use antibiotics that are considered to be medically important for human health for growth promotion in its four feedlots, a spokesperson said.