Image: Andres Rueda via Flickr

Don’t think you need buy organic meat? Think again. The US FDA released an estimate on the amount of antibiotics given to farm animals in the United States. The grand total is over 29 MILLION pounds in 2009!

2009 was the first year the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine required sales and distribution data of antimicrobial drugs approved for food-producing animals (cattle, poultry, swine) including:

“…(1) the amount of each antimicrobial active ingredient by container size, strength, and dosage form; (2) quantities distributed domestically and quantities exported; and (3) a listing of the target animals, indications, and production classes that are specified on the approved label of the product…”

- 2009 Summary Report, Food & Drug Adminstration

If we take cattle as an example, we know that they are meant to forage grass and digest it through their multi-chamber stomachs. Today’s commercially raised cows are fed a diet of corn, wheat, barley, sorghum, and likely never see a fresh blade of grass in their lifetime. They are eating a diet that they were not meant to eat and this has led to a situation where we have millions and millions of sick cows soon to become tomorrow’s dinner. The cattle suffer from a variety of maladies that require constant administration of antibiotics to combat the symptoms. One common health risk is a condition called acidosis.

“Cattle evolved digesting roughages that ferment slowly in the rumen. The rumen microbes of a forage-fed animal are selected for fiber digestion. Adjusting cattle to high grain diets from predominantly forage diets disrupts the normal microbial environment and precipitates acidosis.”

- Drovers Cattle Network Article on Acidosis

Acidosis stems from not only the diet of cattle, but also their living conditions in commercial feedlots which cause unnatural eating patterns. The symptoms of acidosis are serious and include: sudden death syndrome, polio, rumenitis, liver abscesses, malabsorption, and diarrhea. Studies have shown that if cows are given antibiotics, the symptoms of acidosis are less severe or disappear, so cattle are kept on constant rounds of antibiotics. This incredibly high use of antibiotics in commercial food-producing animals causes resistance in not only the animals themselves, but also in the humans who consume the meat (through antibiotic residue in the meat).

Let’s be honest. If you were forced to eat one of your friends (work with me for a minute), would it be the one who has a terminal illness, takes fistfuls of prescription drugs each day and eats fast food 3 times a day or would it be your super-healthy friend who works out regularly, hardly ever gets sick, and eats natural foods? Okay, maybe this is a terrible example, but it does help illustrate why eating sick animals might not be the best idea. Consuming meat from healthy animals just makes common sense.

Start looking at organically grown meats, meats marked “no hormones or antibiotics,” and meat from free-range, grass-fed cattle, and see how it compares to your regular meat. Yes, it will be more expensive, but chances are you’ll be eating much healthier meat and you’ll support farms who believe in raising animals in this way. Check your farmer’s market, food co-op, health food stores, and local farms in your area for options. Seem too expensive? Try reducing your overall meat intake and make the meat you do consume the best possible option for you and the animal.


The Cattle Network
Journal of Animal Medicine
Image: Andres Rueda