Monday, November 4, 2013

Food for Thought: More Pork, Hold the Antibiotics

Hey everyone,

It's November! Today's article is about pigs and antibiotics! As you may know, one of the problems we are facing with foodborne illness is the antibiotic resistance the bacteria exhibit. This is largely due to the use of antibiotics in farms. What you may not know is that feeding animals small amounts of antibiotics actually correlated with increased growth rate which is part of the reason they were used in the first place!

Steve Dritz, a specialist in swine nutrition at Kansas State University, explains that 60 years ago there was a a trend between increased growth rate of animals and the consumption of antibiotics. Observed effects showed 12-15% increased growth with antibiotics with the added benefit of requiring less feed in order to reach full weight! Over time, additional studies performed observed similar growth-promotion with the introduction of antibiotics.

Dritz says that in the 1990s, pork production changed dramatically. Instead of pigs being born and raised in the same barn or barns within a close location,  pigs were now born in one location and moved to a new site. In previous years, pigs would develop in areas with a high risk of infections spreading from one generation to the next. The new regulation ensured that the piglets were growing in a clean area free of disease. Groups of pigs brought onto one site are kept together without mixing pigs from other groups. The regulations are so strict that even workers moving between groups must change their boots to prevent any transmission of infectious diseases.

Post implementation of the new farming standards, pigs began to grow at the same rate as seen with antibiotics. Dritz carrried out experiments and found that the effect of antibiotics on growth were no longer as high as in the past. Though it is thought that the reduction of disease and good hygiene are responsible for the increased growth rate, no definitive conclusions have been made. 

What is clear is that pigs can grow just as quickly without antibiotics with the decreased risk of organisms becoming resistant to drugs we may need to treat illnesses. However, change is slow and not all farmers have taken Dritz' advice nor were they all convinced with the evidence presented. Unfortunately it's difficult to fight against a large population's perception, especially one that has been instilled for such a long time.

With time, hopefully change will occur and we can move towards more natural ways of raising animals that are better.

Here's the article from NPR.

Thanks for reading!
- Charles Quinto