By Arpita Mukherjee, Independent Consultant
When we get sick and need antibiotics, we need a doctor’s prescription and a visit to the pharmacy. Until recently, if you’re a farmer, you could buy those same antibiotics for cattle easily over the counter (OTC) without the need of a prescription. However in late 2016, the FDA declared a voluntary ban on the use of “medically important” antibiotics in livestock for healthy animals or food animals to speed their growth. Since then, the livestock industry — and the food companies they supply livestock products to — has been experiencing a very difficult challenge: create great-tasting and high-quality meat and poultry products at low costs.
To combat the situation, alternatives to antibiotics is rising as an effective part of a comprehensive health management program for the food industry. Several public organizations, including Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Food Animals Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, have recently called on the largest fast food and fast casual restaurant chains in the U.S. to adopt policies limiting antibiotic use in their supply chains. In order to help consumers make informed choices before purchasing the meat they eat, and encourage the food industry to improve their sourcing policies, the alliance recently published the 2017 Chain Reaction III Report and Scorecard that ranks the U.S.’s 25 largest fast food and fast casual restaurant chains on their antibiotics policies. Hence, with major food chains, such as Subway, Chipotle, Panera, Chick-fil-A, and McDonald’s, now being committed to using antibiotic-free chicken, there is extra pressure on chicken producers to find suitable alternatives to antibiotics for disease prevention and growth promotion.
The use of antibiotics in food production animals was originally intended for treating animals with diseases. As the food industry grew over time, and food manufacturers felt the rising demand of feeding more and more people, they started routinely using antibiotics to promote faster animal growth and to help them survive in crowded, stressful, and unsanitary environments. Prolonged use of and increased levels of antibiotics in the rearing of food animals is fueling a rise in antibiotic resistance — a situation where bacteria are able to evade antibiotics, thus creating antibiotic-resistant “super bugs.”