Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Consumers want antibiotic-free meat

A survey by Consumer Reports magazine indicates the public wants meat that’s free of antibiotics.

Just as the controversy over sow gestation crates is passing a peak, this has all the ear-marks of a similar campaign against the use of sub-therapeutic (growth promotant) dosages of antibiotics to improve feed conversion and growth rates of livestock and poultry.

Consumers Union, which is the lobbying arm of Consumer Reports, is borrowing tactics from the Humane Society of the United States in its campaigns against sow gestation stalls and caging laying hens: it is pressuring retailers.

It’s first stop is Trader Joe’s.

From there it is likely to tackle supermarket chains, showing them the results of its poll and urging them to market meat raised without the use of growth-promotant antibiotics.

Consumers Union is also lobbying the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tighten labeling standards for meat raised without antibiotics.

This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the public that farmers will not win. It's also nothing new. 

As long ago as the 1960s and the Swan Committee Report in the United Kingdom, it's been known that the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry rations increases the population of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. 

That poses a threat to public health because medicinal antibiotics may not work to control life-threatening bacteria.

Furthermore, I doubt that many farmers really know whether the antibiotics are having their intended benefit on growth rates and feed conversion. How often - if ever - do they run comparison trials to determine efficacy?