“Humans don’t consume antibiotics every day to prevent disease and neither should healthy animals.” (Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Group at Consumer Reports)
The above quote was shared with me today. What interests me most about the quote, however, is something that most people who read it will simply miss. To see it, let’s go behind the scenes to the board meeting of a regional heritage beef association.
It’s a meeting that took place last Fall on a brilliantly warm Saturday afternoon in the environs of a newly constructed barn. Maybe 10 or 12 were in attendance, all of them farmers, along with myself who was an invited guest. One of the farmers, who apparently had found a niche in the organic market, shared with the group that antibiotics and vaccines were never given to his animals–a required protocol, I’m given to believe, for a product to be labeled as organic. One of the other breeders, a veterinarian, maintained that the judicious use of antibiotics and vaccines is a tremendous boon to the integrity and health of the herd. In fact, not to do so would be “unconscionable”.
I left with an appreciation for the differing points of view that are present in the slow-food movement of which these farmers certainly are a part. Both farmers would agree with Dr. Rangan’s statement. And though it’s true that heritage breeds have developed a natural resilience to illness and disease through natural selection, they can still become ill. And when they do, some farmers–in fact, most of the heritage farmers I’ve met–turn to modern veterinary medicine. It’s the use of prophylactic antibiotics that are not used by heritage breeders: the routine, daily use of antibiotics that one finds in a feedlot setting. Their use is simply not needed on these robust, healthy animals.