Hormones, Antibiotics and Residues: Part 2 – Antibiotics

Whereas the subject of hormones creates an immediate emotional response; the subject of antibiotics creates a slower, less dramatic, more in-depth response that takes time to devour.  Most consumers are interested, but just don’t know enough about the subject.  Smart people want to know more.  The shallow minded believe they have complete understanding of the issues.  I believe that the bonafide experts in the field have as many questions as answers when it comes to the “resistance” factor.

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The experts know a lot of reasons why “antibiotic resistance” might occur.  Yet, resistance pops up in unexpected areas or from unexpected sources that leave the knowledgeable baffled.  With time, we will have the answers.  With time, all will become clear as to how and why it happens.  That time has not yet come.

Agriculture has simply become the current whipping boy, receiving the blame for issues involving resistance: antibiotic use in food animals.  With time we will eventually discern that multiple issues are likely involved in its creation (resistance) having little to do with agriculture and more to do with management of health issues involving people and health issues across the globe.

Consumers, regarding respiratory tract infections, viral invasions generally precede bacterial invasions.  Viruses can, and usually do, destroy individual cells in the lining (which is only one cell deep) of the respiratory tract.  These damaged areas can then be used by bacteria as an area of proliferation.  In a preponderance of situations, bacteria cannot be the primary invader into healthy tissues.  Administering antibiotics prematurely (during a viral invasion) compounds the issues of a secondary bacterial infection.  Response to treatment (antibiotics) is often slowed and would then provide “time” for complications to occur.   In veterinary medicine we are more keenly aware of viral outbreaks and seek remedies to support the immune system, relative to their presence.  With a fully functional immune system, viral vaccinations, properly administered, is the answer—not antibiotics.  All the antibiotics in the world are a drop in the bucket, compared to what a properly functioning immune system can do for itself.  Antibiotics given prematurely, simply compound or worsen the health challenges.

So, why is animal agriculture currently the bad guy regarding antibiotic resistance?  The media!  We live in a world of 24/7 news; times slots have to be filled with something.  Add in a few individuals who believe themselves to be guardians of public welfare, and a wave of misguided and misdirected—misinformation is established.

Very recently, a lady author was interviewed on a news media outlet, stating very plainly that all antibiotics should be withdrawn from animal agriculture.  Period.  She went on to say that animal agriculture was responsible for the “resistance issues” associated with antibiotics.  This material was presented in a fashion that intimated it should be taken as FACT!

In today’s world, if you want to garner a listening or viewing audience, find a subject that hits an emotional hot button and hit it hard.  Hard facts are not required.  Emotional responses create emotional decision making.  We all know, from other areas of our lives, that emotionally made decisions often become regrettable decisions.

We have a society today, led by Millennials, who seek to expose, seek to correct all wrongs—neglected, in their view, by prior generations—and demand to be heard.  As a country, we now tend to overreact to any news that stimulates emotional responses.  There are many examples where activists, in particular, have screamed that agriculture must immediately stop all use of antibiotics.  Not in people mind you, just in animals—food animals.

I might mention two things in addressing this issue.  Most consumers want their beef sourced cattle to have been kindly treated.  Animal welfare is a big deal to consumers and to the beef cattle industry itself.  You know why consumers desire it, let me tell you why producers desire it.  Beef producers are commonly third and fourth generation cattlemen.  Historically, their economic lifeline is the performance and well-being of the cattle under their care.  The better their performance issues, the better the economic return.  It’s always been that way.  To neglect the cattle is to neglect their own pocket book.  In more recent times we have proven that enhancing their sense of well-being, enhances performance parameters.  Keeping them happy and healthy makes us money, besides being the right thing to do.

But, all individuals, cattle and people, have unique immune systems.  Those with very strong immune systems could go through their lives without vaccinations, or significant health issues.  Those with poor immune systems simply cannot be successful in high-exposure environments, i.e. the feedyard.

Most individuals are incrementally somewhere in between the two extremes.  They do get sick but generally respond well to treatment.  At most feedyards, if an animal gets sick a second time, that individual is critically evaluated as to its immune competency.  If there is any reason to believe that this individual is immune compromised, they are removed from the feedyard immediately, and placed back in pasture environments until their health is recovered.  That individual should not ever return to the feedyard.  They can be fed, if necessary, in a pasture environment.

This procedure, as well as our entire philosophy of treating sick cattle, has evolved over time—as most things do.  Yes, we have had issues in the past where our beef industry has failed in the judicious use of antibiotics.  Yes, we have been guilty; but we have learned from our mistakes.  We are now on the verge of leaping light years ahead as we begin to critically focus on the immune system (beyond mere vaccinations), rather than simply treating for sickness.

All of this has occurred during my lifetime.  The feedyard industry began in the 1960’s.  I graduated from veterinary school in 1970.  I have watched the maturation process of this great industry.  Yes, there have been growing pains, obstacles, weather issues, and marketing challenges beyond belief.  Yes, our industry has a few people that lack integrity, but not many.  For the most part, you will not find an industry that cares more about the livestock within it than your cattle industry does.  Cattle are our lives.  Their well-being comes ahead of family issues, except for food and shelter.  Cattle requirements are met before Johnny’s dental issues, and Mary’s new dress.  Lives have been lost caring for winter-stressed cattle; yet the cattle were cared for.

Today, we are recognizing that STRESS is the number one enemy to good health. Only by reducing it at every level and at every opportunity, do we begin to be ahead of the health challenges, particularly as they exist in confined spaces.

As we move forward making significant improvements, relative to their immune systems, there is less need for treatment protocols including the use of antibiotics.  High antibiotic usage today is reflective of poorly understood health management and prevention philosophies relative to topics involving the immune system.  We are light years ahead of where we once were.

The intention of this website is to educate consumers.  For you to understand and hopefully appreciate our efforts as beef producers, you need to know the whole story.  The individuals that make up the beef industry are human beings, with the usual amount of frailties as the rest of the human race.  We are subject to be influenced, strongly influenced, and we have been by the giant, multi-national pharmaceutical companies.

I’ll try not to put all the blame on these companies because the beef industry has long been guilty of attempting to correct management issues with antibiotics.  Yet, I might add, in our industry’s defense, for most producers, antibiotics were historically often the only tool in the shed when it came to health issues.

The vast pharmaceutical industry whose motives are solely directed at sales, should in fact, shoulder most of the responsibility relative to antibiotic overuse.  Across the breadth of the pharmaceutical industry, they would prefer that you think that most all health issues require antibiotics at one stage or another.  Americans lead the world in pharmaceutical consumption.  Giant pharmaceutical companies no longer work from a philosophical basis of “an acceptable margin of profit,” but rather “whatever the market will bear.”  Look at the newer medicines for cancer in particular; for a product that might actually cost less than fifty dollars to produce, they market it for thousands.  Allowing them to become giant, multi-national companies; doing away with the competition, fair market value, giving themselves complete control; and with control comes the power to do as they please.

There is a term, phrase actually, that has come into vogue, very likely because of pharmaceutical companies: “Everything is marketing, marketing is everything.”  A distinct change in my lifetime has been the big pharmaceutical companies.  Veterinarians used to compound a lot of their own drugs:  fully efficacious and reliable.  That was not to the advantage of big pharmaceutical companies.  Over time, the big pharmaceutical companies influenced Congress to disallow products in the market place that they didn’t produce.  It took time and a number of lawsuits, but money prevailed in the halls of justice.  They got it done.

Today, the big pharmaceutical companies are Mr. Friendly and supportive of veterinarians.  They sponsor all kinds of things, business meetings in particular, to the point that we, as an industry, have become too reliant on their monies.  Then came the advent of “rebates” in the hip pocket of veterinarians who used “mass-treatment” protocols.  I’ll not belay that story further, but they have compromised the integrity of at least a minority of veterinarians; and a few is too many.  Our industry has gone through many fads over the last forty years relative to the treatment of sick cattle.  We’ve gone down a lot of bad roads, most commonly directly attributable to big pharmaceutical companies and their quest for sales (profits)

We in the beef industry have, in fact, used a lot of medicinal therapies over the years, and if one wanted to place blame, there would be plenty of opportunity to do so.  But, physicians need to fess up that they too are in the same sandbox; though we don’t yet eat their patients.  We have all allowed big pharmaceutical to grow, expand, gain influence, and reap their rewards.

You want to throw sticks at the beef cattle industry, fine.  We have been guilty in the past.  But, you’d better throw them pretty QUICK because a new sheriff is in town.  Integrity and backbone have been found, and those, whose medicinal decisions have been focused on their own hip pockets, are now on the “stage” for new territory, and not a moment too soon.

The beef industry is moving quickly away from mass antibiotic therapies.  Largely, they don’t work anyway, and I believe that they compound health issues relative to the lungs in particular.  Giant pharmaceutical companies are as a group, a whore that needs to be run out of town as well; because their only true interest, in spite of all the marketing, is MONEY.  Many of their products don’t work, can’t work, but they have good marketing teams.

Consumers, your beef industry, for the most part, has got the message: restore thyself!  Largely, this restoration has, in fact, come from within our great industry.  Too many veterinarians, in particular, did not like the feeling of lost integrity.  Your own concerns helped in that rectification.  THANK YOU.

We like the fact that we are rejoining the great individuals who went before us.

You now have much more to worry about than the beef cattle industry:  a corrupt government that has just about put us in the poor house, and created a situation where the U.S. is the butt of jokes across the globe.