Agriculture Issues: Antibiotics in our Food


Bailey Richardson

As I was watching TV one night, I saw a fast-food commercial stating their chicken was ‘Antibiotic Free’. I wondered, “How could any living thing be healthy without antibiotics?”

Humans are prescribed antibiotics all the time for anything from a cough to pneumonia. Having animals of my own, I’m aware that they are susceptible to sickness just like us. So why is the use of antibiotics by farmers so frowned upon?

I raise beef cattle, with the same purpose as many others across the Midwest, to feed others. I have to vaccinate them in order to maintain proper health. Cattle get sick and injured, just like humans. Although much of it can be prevented, some things are uncontrollable. Farmers now have to make the choice to be able to sell their beef with a certain label, or use no antibiotics.

Many Americans don’t realize the impact on the environment, health of cattle, or even themselves by eating “Antibiotic-Free” meat. Of course that sounds better, but the truth behind it is many cattle suffer from not getting the treatment they need in order to keep their “Antibiotic-Free” label. Often, farmers make ‘deals’ with big corporations, such as McDonald’s, to send them only “Antibiotic-Free” meats. But little do these corporations know, many of the animals their meat comes from were sickly before being butchered. Now, it is important to realize that this is not the case with every fast food restaurant, farmer, or corporation. 

I recently read a scenario from a farmer in Nebraska, which gave me a new point of view on this topic. They were successful dairy farmers with a sick calf. Typically they would give him antibiotics, keep it quarantined from the herd for awhile, and send it back once it was healthy. Because of a new agreement with a dairy product producer, though, they were not supposed to give antibiotics. They first made this agreement because it could increase their profit, which is an opportunity anyone would take. As a result of keeping their “Antibiotic-Free” label, they were forced to try to nurse the calf back to health without antibiotics. Unfortunately, that’s difficult to do, and not always successful. 

An important fact people need to know is that milk is always “Antibiotic-Free,” whether the cow was given antibiotics or not. Not only are dairy products ran through a number of processes to ensure the quality, but they are inspected at many levels. As for beef, pork, or chicken, all animals being butchered are regulated to go through a period of time without antibiotics. This enforces that their bodies’ have removed all antibiotics recently given.