Increasingly there have been concerns raised by researchers as well as legislators about the routine use of non-therapeutic levels of antibiotics by agriculture to foster growth of livestock. As a result, there has been growing interest in organic agriculture, which does not allow this practice.
Those watching the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric segment on livestock production airing Feb. 9 and 10 may be interested to learn that choosing foods bearing the organic label is the only way consumers can be sure meats and dairy products they buy have been produced without the use of antibiotics.
Organic practices recognize and respect the powerful nature of antibiotics. As a result, organic practices prohibit the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones or other animal drugs in animal feed for the purpose of stimulating the growth or production of livestock.
Respected organizations such as the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have recommended against the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture in order to protect public health. Those organizations point out that such uses of antibiotics in agriculture contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Most recently, the June 2009 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives included a focus article entitled "The Landscape of Antibiotic Resistance," which referenced research showing that the practice of using antibiotics at sub-therapeutic levels in livestock feed and water has led to the persistence of these antibiotics in the environment and the possibility of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Up to 70 percent of all antibiotics produced in the United States are used for 'non-therapeutic" purposes in industrial food animal production, according to The Union of Concerned Scientists, which defines 'non-therapeutic' as the use of antibiotics in the absence of diagnosed disease.
Food animals on industrial farms often are routinely fed antibiotics in food and water to promote weight gain and feed efficiency, and to compensate for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. This is not allowed in organic agriculture.
Organic producers are required by the organic standards to provide living conditions and health care practices that help prevent illness and to promote health of the animals.
In addition to prohibiting the use of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones in organic livestock production, U.S. national organic standards require organic livestock to be fed 100 percent organic feed and given access to pasture and the outdoors. The standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, toxic and persistent pesticides, and sewage sludge on fields. Organic operations are federally regulated, with third-party certification by a U.S. Department of Agriculture-accredited certifier.