Antibiotics are a marvel of modern medicine; they lend a helping hand to the antibodies in our immune system, and support them in defeating bad bacteria in our guts which can impact our health. Any good doctor will tell you antibiotics are a great form of restorative medicine — in small doses. Medicine should assist the amazing things our bodies do all on their own, not take away our bodies ability to develop these processes on their own.
But we’re just a butcher, right? Why are we talking about medicine?
Conventional farming in the last hundred years have harnessed these same antibiotic medicines and included them in feeding and maintenance of their animals. The proposed benefits for this are reducing disease in animals, allowing them to grow bigger and stronger faster, and removing the needs for intensive animal care. The purported benefits have changed the way food animals live, but is it changing the way we live?
Scientists, farmers and consumers who consider the organic food movement have raised concerns about how excessive use of antibiotics in animal husbandry can impact our own bodies' immune processes. Antibacterial resistance is a very real and threatening consequence of overuse of antibiotics. The same way you learn to deal with the cold weather a few weeks into winter (including that moment in the morning where you have to count to three and jump out of bed to force yourself to move from your warm blankets), antibodies which can threaten your immune system learn to resist common antibiotics. They mutate and grow stronger, until the use of medicine is unable to effectively kill the bacteria 1 There’s no more one two three, I’m up! when bacteria reigns unchallenged in your gut. Unbalanced gut bacteria, or a weak immune system, is exactly as bad as it sounds. It can lead to illnesses like the Flu and Strep having devastating, disproportionate effects on your body, cancer and even developing long-term immuno-diseases .
There’s conflicting reports about the impact of animal antibiotics on human wellness. How many antibiotics is ‘excessive use’? How much of the antibiotics do we consume when we eat treated meat? How effective is the antibiotic after it’s been processed by the animal’s body? This question has only be raised in the last few decades, and the general ruling is there isn’t enough research done to prove the efficacy or safety of the process . The FDA in America has banned the use of specific antibiotics in conventional farming, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a report with the recommendation to reduce or stop the use of antibiotics in food animals , including a list of critically important antibiotics to human health which should be approached with caution in animal care. As anything that is underfunded and under-researched, we’ll never find a satisfying answer.
The real question is, is it worth the risk? One of the defining features of organic agriculture is the little-to-no interference from humans, which includes no antibiotic treatment. Organic farming includes a trust in the Earth to provide the animals with the nutrients and good bacteria it needs to live and thrive. Antibiotics have reportedly been used to accommodate early-weaning of piglets for the commercial agriculture process; antibiotics act as an alternative to the nutrients given through mother’s milk . Organic farming, rather, allows the animals to live their natural processes as much as possible. The organic farmers we work with, which you can read about here, do not include antibiotics in the care of their animals.
With organic meat, you don’t have to decide if it’s worth the risk: you can avoid the problem all together.