As antibiotics have become more widely used and powerful, so have the illnesses they were designed to fight. And an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” is a real fear of many — including consumers, legislators and meat processors.
More people using more antibiotics for more illnesses has helped give germs the impetus to strengthen. However, consumers are also exposed to the antibiotics given to the animals used in the meat they eat. Just as some doctors are now less likely to grab their prescription pad for patients with minor illnesses, many meat producers are now adopting strategies to use fewer antibiotics on their livestock.
Regardless of whether medicine or meat is more at fault in creating the “superbug” threat, meat processors are figuring out how to balance their use of antibiotics with general public opinion. While many companies have chosen to reduce or eliminate their use of antibiotics, others have chosen to promote transparency of their antibiotics use to dispel myths and better inform consumers.
Getting rid of antibiotics — or not
Most companies have opted to make changes in their supply chain to reduce or eliminate antibiotics.
“We’re doing this because it’s the most responsible approach to balance a global health concern and animal well-being,” Worth Sparkman, public relations manager at Tyson Foods, told Food Dive. “…We want to be part of the solution.”
Cargill has insisted on focusing its efforts around “science-based and fact-based solutions.”
“We want to be thoughtful about how we approach the reduction of antibiotics, as there are usually consequences for doing so,” Michael Martin, director of communications at Cargill, told Food Dive. “(They include) higher death loss, increased use of antibiotics at higher doses for therapeutic use to treat disease, increased production costs and an increased volume of resources used to raise livestock and poultry.”
What alternatives they’re using
Poultry processors in particular have employed a number of alternatives to antibiotics to treat sick animals and prevent the spread of disease.
- Essential oils: Cargill announced in January that the company had developed a proprietary blend of essential oils, called the Promote Biacid Nucleus feed additive. Sparkman said Tyson has also explored using essential oils in its efforts to replace certain antibiotics.
- Improved feed products: Cargill has developed feed products that can improve animal health without the need for antibiotic treatments.
- Industry best practices for health and hygiene
- Routine health examinations
- Veterinary advice, particularly about disease prevention
- Improved animal genetics
- Enhanced animal handling and management practices
- Proven biosecurity measures