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Does antibiotic use on farms affect your health?

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 3:22 PM by Iowa Corn

Antibiotics_CommonGround_KatieOlthoffAntibiotic use on farms is one of the most talked about and most misunderstood issues related to today’s agriculture. And I’ll admit, I lost some sleep over it for a while. It’s hard not to! Read an article about it or watch a documentary, and you’ll be scared out of your wits!

But animal welfare is a top priority for us, and if we didn’t use antibiotics, we would have birds suffering and dying from illnesses that are treatable with antibiotics.

So how do we make sure that our antibiotic use in turkeys is not harmful to humans? How do we balance animal health and human health? Luckily, we don’t have to, because all peer-reviewed risk assessments articles to date have shown no significant risk to public health from on farm use of antibiotics. (Dr. Scott Hurd, Hurd’s Health)
Here’s how it all works…

*First, antibiotics are approved by the FDA.

Antibiotic approval for animal use is actually more intensive than approval for human use because of these three aspects: (

1) If there are risks to humans, FDA will not approve the antibiotic for animals.

2) FDA requires a food safety assessment to ensure that meat is safe. (There are no antibiotic residues in the meat.)

3) FDA studies the pharmaceutical thoroughly to guarantee it does not increase the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food.

*Second, before turning to antibiotics, farmers work hard to prevent disease in other ways. We use vaccines to keep turkeys healthy. We limit exposure to germs by limiting visitors and changing clothes and showering between barns. We give them quality nutrition and clean water, and we also minimize stress on the birds by keeping them in a climate controlled barn.

*Third, we use antibiotics for the prevention, control and treatment of disease, as outlined by the FDA.

    1. Prevention: Based on # birds raised every year in the United States, antibiotics are given to birds through the feed to prevent illness when we know it is likely to occur. There is a lot of research that goes into this, and it is done under the guidance of vets.

    2. Control: If a disease outbreak occurs, we work with a vet to decide when and which antibiotics will be given to all birds in order to control the outbreak.

    3. Treatment: If a bird is noticeably ill, it will be given antibiotics. Again, this is done under the guidance of a vet.

*When we use antibiotics, we follow strict dosing and withdrawal guidelines from the FDA. And we work with a veterinarian to determine when they should be used.

*Finally, every flock is tested by the USDA for antibiotic residues. Before a flock goes to market, we have to take fat samples from several birds and send those in for testing. The flock cannot go to market if residues are found.


What this means for you: ALL MEAT IS ANTIBIOTIC FREE!

“Okay, okay,” you say, “the meat is antibiotic free. But what about antibiotic resistance?”

I get it. No one wants to get sick because of antibiotic use on farms. But you needn’t worry, because as I said earlier, all peer-reviewed risk assessments articles to date have shown no significant risk to public health from on farm use of antibiotics. And that includes antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Here’s why:

*Most antibiotics used for prevention are not medically important to humans. And as I shared earlier in this post, the FDA takes that into account when approving medicines for animals. Food Dialogues has some really neat infographics showing which antibiotics are used in animals and which are used in humans.

*Most bacteria present in meat cause vomiting or diarrhea, and antibiotics are not generally prescribed for those illnesses. Most people get well within two days, with or without treatment. So even if you were to get sick from an antibiotic resistant bacteria, it wouldn’t affect your treatment or recovery. (More info at BestFoodFacts)

(By the way, the best way to avoid getting sick from bacteria in food is to follow safe handling guidelines and cook meat thoroughly.)

The decision to use antibiotics is never taken lightly. And it’s times like these that I’m thankful for the vast support network we have. Veterinarians, scientists, professors…they help us make these major decisions.

I know that there have been some major media stories vilifying the use of antibiotics on farms, but as usual, there is more than one side to every story. Unfortunately, the scary, sensationalized side grabs people’s attention more, so that’s the angle the media takes.

But as you can see, I’ve done extensive research to make sure that what we do on our farm does not harm human health. And I’m confident when I say that it doesn’t.

Katie Olthoff is a turkey farmer who lives in Stanhope, Iowa. She’s a graduate of Iowa State University and her farm raises three flocks of turkeys at a time, each consisting of 20,000 birds. Katie is a member of CommonGround™, an organization with the goal of helping consumers understand that their food is not grown by a factory – it’s grown by people.




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