It’s nearly impossible to browse the Internet or to watch TV without seeing a passing reference to antibiotics in the nation’s food supply. A report released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demonstrated that 18 of the 30 livestock antibiotics submitted for testing posed a risk to human health.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 2 million people per year develop antibiotic-resistant infections. Both commercial and small farmers have treated livestock feed with antibiotics as a means of keeping the animals healthy, promoting growth, and preventing disease.
A Shift in Thinking
However, consumer groups have been raising public awareness regarding this practice. At the root of the argument is a key concern: the development of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans due to the use of antibiotics in livestock feed.
Animal welfare groups have expressed concern over the use of antibiotics as a means of artificially accelerating growth in livestock. Chipotle and McDonald’s responded to consumer complaints by pledging to reduce or eliminate antibiotics in their chicken supply.
California, the third-largest state for livestock behind Texas and Iowa, has enacted the toughest set of standards surrounding livestock antibiotic use. Effective 2018, the use of antibiotics in livestock feed will be prohibited.
These trends mark a shift in awareness surrounding the use of antibiotics in livestock feed for perfectly healthy animals. With increased consumer feedback and in the wake of the California legislation, farmers and agricultural scientists are working toward a more favorable alternative.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Farmers and scientists are currently evaluating the use of prebiotic and probiotic formulas in livestock feed as an alternative to antibiotics in maintaining healthy livestock.
Organic farmers have been adding extracts such as thyme and oregano to their livestock feed. Both thyme and oregano have anti-microbial properties that are enhanced when used in conjunction with probiotic supplements.
The anti-microbial properties work the same way in livestock as they do in humans. They stabilize gut bacteria and make the livestock less susceptible to illness over time. Industry groups and consumers both hope this shift will mean a healthier food supply in the long run.
An Emerging Trend
Although the use of prebiotic and probiotic supplements in livestock feed has invited its fair share of skepticism, it does represent an encouraging trend in commercial farming.
While there is no one-size-fits-all supplement for livestock, the willingness of farmers and agricultural scientists to use prebiotic and probiotic-enhanced feeds represents a significant shift in food production.
With ready access to the Internet, TV, and other forms of media, it’s nearly impossible not to be aware of the hot-button issue of antibiotics in livestock feed. Farmers have long used antibiotics to increase animal growth and to prevent illness in healthy livestock.
Once regarded as a “fringe practice” used by organic farmers, prebiotic and probiotic-enhanced livestock feed represents a growing trend among large commercial farmers. This shift away from antibiotic use represents a positive trend in food production.