Antibiotics survey leaves wrong impression on meat

A CNN report in mid-October started this way: “Six consumer interest groups are now sounding the alarm about the use of antibiotics in meat served at the 25 largest burger chains in the United States.”

The issue of antibiotic resistant infections, mainly due to overuse of antibiotics in humans, is important and well-known. The alarm was sounded years ago. But the method of addressing it, in this case a simple survey, is imprudent.

It’s estimated that 700,000 people died worldwide in 2016 as a result of infections that are resistant to antibiotics. It’s thought that by 2050, up to 10 million people could die annually.

Canada and the United States have joined a global initiative called One Health, which includes industry groups, government organizations, veterinarians, scientists, physicians and academics to take a multi-disciplinary approach to antibiotic resistance.

Such an approach, for example, has yielded policy change in Canada that means farmers must get prescriptions from veterinarians for antibiotics, which helps to assign professional accountability.

The consumer groups involved in the burger chain survey are the National Resource Defence Council, Consumer Reports, the U.S. Public Research Interest Group, Friends of the Earth, the Food Animal Concerns Trust, and the Center for Food Safety. They rated restaurants on their policies and practices through a survey aimed at eliminating the “routine” use of antibiotics in animals.

Two restaurants were given an A, one rated a D minus, and 22 failed. (Only seven of 25 restaurants asked to fill out the survey responded.) It’s relevant in Canada because pressure on restaurant chains in the U.S. have a natural spill-over effect.

This report does not acknowledge meaningful scientific efforts focused on antibiotics in agriculture. It does not acknowledge the fact that governments and industry groups are making progress toward reducing or eliminating the use of medically important antibiotics in animals (those vital to treating human infections that have not responded to other drugs) and it does not take into account animal health or the economic realities of farming.

Science and research are showing the way. For instance, in feedlots, antibiotics are used on newly weaned cattle that are stressed from leaving their mothers and mingling with new animals, and thus are susceptible to disease. But research suggests that increased use of fence line or two-stage weaning may reduce stress on calves and hopefully ease the need for prophylactic (or so-called routine) antibiotics.

Yet such efforts escape this study. It’s all or nothing through consumer pressure.

As well, such a survey subtly implies that meat produced with antibiotics is unhealthy. It is not. There are rules for withdrawal periods. There are no antibiotics in meat or dairy products when they reach consumers.

Agriculture is responsible for about 80 percent of antibiotic use in Canada, which isn’t surprising considering there are 19 animals for every human and animal weight is factored in. So the industry has an important role to play in battling antibiotic resistance. It would be prudent to ensure the industry is fulfilling that obligation.

Rather than submitting restaurants to consumer pressure, where the law of unintended consequences is bound to prevail when it comes to animal health, efforts would be better aimed at studying policies of industry groups to see whether they embrace the One Health initiative and whether that initiative’s concepts are being promoted among their members.

A restaurant survey to increase consumer pressure leaves the wrong impression about meat and, if the pressure is successful, can be dangerous to animal health.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.


  • richard

    Do you lovely people listen to yourselves? ” Seven hundred thousand humans currently die annually due to antibiotic resistant bacteria. And by 2050, ten million could die annually (if current trends continue)”……And you conclude “consumer pressure leaves the wrong impression about meat and if the pressure is successful can be dangerous to animal health”…… Let me get this straight…. Sacrificing ten million human lives per year is worth the illusion of making “animal health” THE priority???…. So in fifty years when all humans are dead, who is going to administer the antibiotics to the livestock?…. Have we turned into gerbils?

    • Happy Farmer

      Re-read the 2nd paragraph where the main reason for antibiotic resistance is clearly given. Then read the 11th paragraph paying particular attention to its last sentence.
      Then read the article again to see which sector of agriculture is working on lessening the use of antibiotics. (hint-cattle).
      Now why would the general public not be as concerned that human antibiotic use is the biggest part of the resistance problem? And you want us to believe that there is some big conspiracy from “big ag”?? Seems to me people are not wanting to be properly informed by science and research, but rather(oh well, read the article as it states how people would rather be informed).

      • richard

        Where did I say conspiracy of big ag??? If you stay on point, then we can have an adult conversation on antibiotic abuse. Seventy percent of pharmaceutical use is in North America and seventy percent of that use is antibiotics in livestock production…. If you wish to believe that kind of addiction is sustainable or smart, its your prerogative, but you will continue to go off the cliff trying to reconcile lemming based practices. Ignorance is bliss and stupidity is contagious…. thats the only conspiracy here…..and your friends in agribiz are only feeding it…. we both know who the culprits are….please.

        • Happy Farmer

          Point – there are no antibiotics in the food chain from dairy and meat sources due to withdrawal times.
          Point – antibiotic mis-use is almost entirely limited to mankind’s use or should i say mis-use antibiotics.
          Point – Big Ag Conspiracy. You talk about it in just about every comment you make. (even though you did not here, sorry about that)
          Point – Ignorance, bliss, stupidity! Seems there is little immunity here for modern mankind, regardless of who or what they claim to be or represent.
          Point – Just to make it clear, Antibiotics (supposedly from animals) has little if anything to do with the human problem of antibiotic resistance.

          • richard

            … The subject of antibiotic residues in food is as irrelevant to my point as your obsession with big ag…… Its the resistant bacteria that are the consequence of antibiotic abuse that are the problem…..full stop. And they manifest themselves in the factory barns, in the slaughterhouses and on the meat and packaging that is retailed. These are the disease vectors…….Once they infect an innocent victim, it matters not if that victim has ever used antibiotics or been near them…. he or she is helpless to fight back. Ergo the death rate….. If you believe antibiotic resistance does not find its genesis in factory hog, poultry and cattle feedlots where antibiotics are used prophylactically as growth promoters…. then you are dead wrong….. These facilities are the absolute perfect incubator (warm wet and crowded) for accelerated bacterial mutation…. aka antibiotic resistance….. The fact that humans abuse the same antibiotics on themselves is another story of abject ignorance….. but unlike factory barns, how many humans do you know that take antibiotics from birth to death? “Agriculture is responsible for eighty percent of the use of antibiotics in Canada”…… Do I really need to say more???

          • Happy Farmer

            Nope, you don’t need to say anything more….at least not for my sake. It is quite clear that you will not change your opinion in spite of any sound science.
            Science is quite clear on antibiotic resistance in humans….it is not from agriculture and its practices…no matter if they are good or bad….or if you agree or disagree with them..
            Do you have any science backing your theory that resistant bacteria enter humans through animals? Science, not theories please.

          • richard

            “Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Livestock” (Centre For Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia)…. Do yourself a favour with some real sound science….

          • Happy Farmer

            Hmm….All evidence from your article seems to point to humans as the main culprit in their own issues with antibiotic resistance. When it comes from animals or agriculture it seems to clearly indicate it is due to improper handling of food. So yes, people could possibly get sick from improperly handled food. But the actual resistance problem in humans is from human misuse of antibiotics. Just as the authors of the original WP article wrote. (Thanks WP for such careful research and writing of your articles).

          • richard

            CDC Threat Report 2017…(Yes, Agricultural Antibiotics Play a Role in Drug Resistance)…… Perhaps WP editors should cover the whole story, because denial never makes anything go away….


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