By Amelia Kent
More and more often, I see things floating through media outlets either talking favorably about or instilling distrust in our food supply. An oldie but goodie reads “PSA: ALL of the meat and milk you buy is antibiotic-free.”
Several people whom I immensely respect shared that message on social media, as did I. This is an important reminder when there are so many different labels targeting consumers, some of which have very good points and many of which are purely marketing ploys.
What I didn’t anticipate in this casual share were comments dissecting the word play, referencing antibiotic (over)use in livestock and in turn antibiotic resistance in humans. Yet I am not surprised in these comments, nor dismissive. As farmers and ranchers raising the animals that enter our food supply, we need to be front and center in dialogues such as these. Yes, a dialogue, a friendly and respectful exchange; and not a debate or argument.
We know the daunting figures that agrarians represent less than 1.5% of our society, and that number keeps getting smaller. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, tell our own stories, and provide respectful explanations of our practices, we’re leaving ourselves, our neighbors and our customers open to fueled misinformation.
Let’s revisit that antibiotic resistance dialogue. Can farmers and ranchers be better managers in administering antibiotics? Sure, but what does that look like? The Veterinary Feed Directive enacted in January 2017 is a major step forward in that better management through increased regulation, and preliminary data shows a sharp reduction in the use of antibiotics in cattle feedlots and hog operations.
A working relationship with your veterinarian is another incredibly helpful tool, even if that means a quick text or call rather than an in-person visit. That same working relationship with a veterinarian is extremely important anyway, but if a health problem does arise, that existing relationship between the farmer and the veterinarian ensures the vet’s familiarity of the herd and farm in question, and helps potentially mitigate liability.
Livestock are the common blame for antibiotic resistance, but something that is frequently left out of the antibiotic resistance conversation is overprescribing in humans. This doesn’t mean one or the other are to solely or mostly blame. I firmly believe everyone needs to be good stewards of the medical tools on which we rely, regardless of the industry in question. While farmers and ranchers know we eat the exact same food being produced and marketed in the grocery store, we need to do a better job conveying that to our neighbors and the general public.