BEEF Editors' Blog

College Student Takes BEEF Editor To Task Over Antibiotic Resistance Article

A college student takes a BEEF editor to task over the magazine's handing on the beef industry's involvment in the antibiotic resistance issue.

Last week, I had the opportunity for an email conversation with a young man who was writing a critique for his community college English class. He chose to critique an old article I wrote about antibiotic resistance that resulted from the first NIAA antibiotics symposium.

Lucky me.

Here’s his initial email:

“I’m doing a critique essay on your article Competing Factors Compound The Antibiotic Debate followed by a research paper on factory farms and antibiotic resistance.  I would like a bit more insight from you so that I may decide whether to argue for or against use of antibiotics in Farm Animals. 

“From your publication afore mentioned it seems you are saying the scare that antibiotics for livestock can cause antibiotics resistance/superbug is purely emotional.   Do you still hold that opinion in the face of the CDC and World Health Organization who say science shows that antibiotics are resistant because of antibiotic over use?

“Furthermore, can you provide me or point me in the direction to data that would prove your case?

“Also, what would you say to people who may suggest that you are a big ag journalist whos opinion cannot be trusted?”

My answer was brief and fairly curt. Basically I told him that antibiotic resistance is an incredibly complex issue and trying to pin the blame on any single use of antibiotics is either intellectually lazy or agenda driven. And neither of those will help find answers. Here’s what I got as a critique:

Critique of Burt Rutherford's View of The Antibiotic Debate

“The Center for Disease Control [CDC] and World Health Organization [WHO] has publically announced that the world is approaching a health crisis. Bacteria are developing antibiotic resistant genes at a faster rate than pharmaceutical companies can produce new and effective antibiotics.  The fear is that unless steps are taken to prevent bacterial resistant genes from spreading the world will slip back into the preantibiotic age where we lose ability to treat infections like tuberculosis, malaria, HIV infections, cancer treatment infections or a simple skin infection.  The WHO and CDC have recommended that use of antibiotics for the growth of livestock be stopped expediently because of the risk of increased development of microbial resistance.  Contrary to the WHO and CDC position's, Burt Rutherford, a graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in Agriculture Journalism and currently Senior Editor of Beef Magazine, suggests in his article, Competing Factors Compound The Antibiotic Debate, the public opinion against the use of antibiotics indiscriminately on livestock is purely emotional and ignores scientific data.

“The purpose of Mr. Rutherford's article is to provide an answer to his readers about claims that emerging antibiotic resistant bacteria can be reduced by halting antibiotic use by cattlemen on livestock.  In doing so, Mr. Rutherford cites Mr. Scott Hurd who in the past held the position of Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA.  As reported by Rutherford, Mr. Hurd references 140 different data points that show negligible risk from antibiotic fed livestock contributing to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Moreover, Rutherford cites Hurd as saying antibiotic resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon that is found almost everywhere on earth to include places rarely frequented by humans.  Mr. Rutherford expounds his position coinciding with Mr. Hurd that the public's outcry against use of antibiotics for food producing animals is purely emotional and not based on scientific research.  Mr. Rutherford's reference from Mr. Hurd notes how the public may be rejecting the science aforementioned because of political, religious or philosophical reasons that scientific data cannot sway.  Rutherford offers his sympathies toward cattlemen who may be troubled by this line of thinking. 

“Upon evaluation of Mr. Rutherford's article, I did not discover any citations that would lead an objective reader to view any of the 140 data points used by Mr. Hurd to make a case for the continued use of antibiotics in livestock.  Additionally, Rutherford shares a claim by Mr. Hurd that the Infectious Disease Society of America states antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans does not correlate in any way with agriculture.  This information could not be substantiated with the information given.  Even a casual reader with minimal understanding can discern that this article is full of oversimplification.  While arguing that bacterial resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon, Rutherford does not mention the primary argument coming from the public wherein relentless antibiotic overuse and indiscriminant exposure on the farm increases the rate at which bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics.  Furthermore, Rutherford definitively states that those opposed to antibiotic use for livestock are driven purely by an irrational emotion.  Rutherford fails to point out that many of the cries for reduction of antibiotic use for livestock come from prestigious organizations tasked with the health and well being of our nation and the world such as the WHO and CDC.  Mr. Rutherford tries to drum up sympathy for cattlemen with another generalization, noting that cattlemen are frustrated and are in the business to produce safe and remarkable beef.  In this instance, Mr. Rutherford fails to point out that these cattlemen are conducting business for capital gain and the use of antibiotics provides a competitive edge by increasing the weight and health of their cattle for increased profits.  Finally, Mr. Rutherford did not disclose to the reader that his role as Senior Editor for Beef Magazine is to "help keep Beef readers informed of trends and production practices to bolster the bottom line," which is a clear conflict of interest and blatantly dishonest" (Contact).

“After carefully considering who the author is and the information provided in the article, I cannot recommend this reading to a serious audience.  While ignoring cries from the medical community, Mr. Rutherford suggest those who are concerned with antibiotic resistance coming from farms are delusional.  Because Mr. Rutherford did not provide sources to support his claim that antibiotic resistance does not come from farms, his argument is empty. This is not a good article to read if one is trying to discern this very real and dynamic problem of antibiotic resistance. “

I’m not looking for vindication. He asked for my help, I didn’t give him much, and as a result, things didn’t go so well for me. And that’s okay. If that’s his honest opinion, I admire his courage in sharing it with me.

But I’d like your thoughts. So here’s what I am asking: How would you have answered his questions, had he sent the email to you?  What’s your opinion of his critique of the article? Are we doing a good job covering the antibiotic resistance issue or are we too one-sided? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.



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Discuss this Blog Entry 62

Jake Anderson (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

Mr. Rutherford,

As with any piece, I do think that the industry as a whole tends to be a bit one-sided. This is most times unavoidable as it is difficult to take all bias out of play. The same bias can be seen from the other side as well. I am of the opinion that sound science is all that matters. Unfortunately, emotion is the major driver in the majority of the populous' decision making.

As you stated in your response, antibiotic resistance is a very complex issue. I believe that your response was very well put, to the purely rational thinker. Unfortunately, most if not all people do not think 100% rationally. Emotion will always play a part in the human response. You may have been able to take a little further time sculpting your response to the young man, as it could come off as a defensive stance from the young man's point of view. This is something I believe that we all must do to better defend our industry.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

When knowledge and belief conflict, belief will prevail.
Much to the consternation of those of us who wish public and private policy to be based on the most complete knowledge available. see following comment.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

I feel that cattlemen become defensive when questioned about there management practices. I being a cattleman who handles high feeders from time to time feel a gut wrenching sickness when mass treating a set of high risk cattle to ward off s myco outbreak and we do do this not so much for monetary gain but to avoid financial devastation. I have thought of several solutions to these problems but all roads have led back to the antibiotics. All other methods are cost prohibitive. In areas of better management practices we don't seem to have the illness associated with cattle stress so until we can convince certain areas of cattle producers to give disease preventative shots anti biotics are a reality of our industry.

W.E. (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I agree that cattlemen become defensive about their management practices. When we sent calves to feedlots during the first twenty years of our partnership, we also were defensive. The truth is that cattle that do not go to feedlots have a miniscule need for antibiotics.
Mr. Rutherford, in the information age, people may at any time be held accountable for our motives, as this very smart young man so politely warned you. If your business is to support the present system of providing beef almost exclusively through the feedlot and conventional beef marketing system that is already in place, no one can be surprised at your trying to maintain the status quo.
But if your business is to communicate with all beef producers, those of us who no longer use industrial methods must at least attempt to communicate back to you that there is more than one way to produce beef. More importantly, the demand for beef exists among several different kinds of customer. Beef producers should be trying to meet the needs of those who no longer buy or want conventional feedlot beef. Otherwise these very real customers go unserved, and their demand for high quality protein must find other suppliers. That we don't buy a great many of the products that sponsor your salary, we understand, makes you ignore us.
Our paradigm shift became complete in 2003 when dismal prices for our non-black calves and the "mad-cow" debacle offered us a new wide-open opportunity in the world of direct-marketing grassfed beef. For over ten years now, we have marketed almost all as custom beeves, whole-cow USDA inspected ground beef and cuts.
Most of our customers are either highly health-conscious or have health problems already. Our customers are generally well-educated, rational people, but few are what anyone would call “elite.” Many are families with small children. Likewise, few are emotional. We have great respect for our customers, and they reward us with appreciation for what we do in addition to helping us make a decent living with our hard work.
Keeping the calves at home to meet local demand for all-natural grassfed beef is better for our land, and allows us a fair opportunity at a profit, since we do the extra work. It also gives our customers a fair opportunity to get what they need and want.

Don L (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

W.E. Well stated. I am just getting into the cow business in a small way, but am looking to go your direction. I selected Galloway as a breed because they meet your criteria.

on Mar 12, 2014

Don, do more homework. I have been there and done that. Galoways may be the least fertile and non productive cattle I have ever worked with. One of the happiest days of my life is when the last ones we had left the place. They are a minor breed for good reason.

Amy Patrick (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Loved our little Galloways. Hardy, efficient feeders, but Angus bring in the money.

W.E. (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Ours are all Hereford-sired, from a cow herd that has been grazing exclusively with no grain supplementation for nearly fifty years. There is as much difference within breeds as between them. Find a well-established reputable herd that manages the way you want to manage and get your foundation cattle there.

rod (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

you, and the rest of ag media are just a bunch of clapping seals for the pharmaceutical industry

Michael Klein (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

Then what are you doing reading this blog?

Michael Randolph (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

It is my belief that it is a hard topic to rationally debate. I am a rancher and I always am concerned about my bottom line, having said that I think I would have answered the email with the best information I had and added that my belief is that animals that are sick should be treated, but that the use of antibiotics to healthy animals to simply increase profits both increases the risk of bacteria resistance and puts our way of life at risk because of how it makes us look.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I most certainly agree with you! As I work on very large farm! besides the extra chore, right?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

It is not a purely emotional stance. Antibiotics go through a rigorous amount of testing and research before they are approved for use. If there is anyone to blame for the use of antibiotics, it is surely not beef producers. As an industry, we should have the right to use products that are approved. Antibiotics are arguably a more humane and sustainable way forward for the beef industry. If folks want to pick a fight with someone over antibiotic use, they should look to the agencies responsible for determining product safety.

Therefore, I believe it is safe to say that arguments directed against the beef industry's use of antibiotics are emotionally charged and used to unfairly promote other products and brands. You may be an ag journalist, but it is your responsibility to call out those who are using scare tactics against an industry that is merely abiding by the rules and protocols developed to ensure safety and sustainability.

Merely the thoughts of another college student ;)

Amy Patrick (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Well said. The student posed a legitimate question and Burt missed a golden opportunity to educate and inform.

Nesikep (not verified)
on May 10, 2014

I think a golden opportunity was indeed missed to provide a substantiated defense on antibiotic use in cattle.. I think this journalist already had an agenda lurking, and he took every hole in your response and really ran off the deep end with it.

I am a small scale organic beef producer. I run a closed herd except for the bulls I buy (once every 4-5 years). I vaccinate for things I know are in the area, and will use antibiotics if I need to. That being said, I don't grab antibiotics the instant a cow has an infection, I give the animal a chance to deal with it on their own, and closely monitor them. They really do have an amazing ability to recover and heal if given the chance. I haven't needed antibiotics stronger than sulfa drugs for uterine infections yet. A little iodine, TLC, and a good diet goes a long way, but when you need an antibiotic, you need one. We have a package of tetracycline.. a whole pound of it, designed to medicate about 10,000 gallons of water... That is the sort of thing that I think would breed resistant strains of bacteria... low concentrations over extended times, against low-risk organisms.

Oh, and the beef industry certainly isn't the big offender here... I think the pork and poultry sectors are far more hazardous, considering the animals are housed in barns, which naturally are warm and humid... a better place to breed disease hasn't yet been found!

Brandon Reeves (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

It is not a purely emotional stance. Antibiotics go through a rigorous amount of testing and research before they are approved for use. If there is anyone to blame for the use of antibiotics, it is surely not beef producers. As an industry, we should have the right to use products that are approved. Antibiotics are arguably a more humane and sustainable way forward for the beef industry. If folks want to pick a fight with someone over antibiotic use, they should look to the agencies responsible for determining product safety.

Therefore, I believe it is safe to say that arguments directed against the beef industry's use of antibiotics are emotionally charged and used to unfairly promote other products and brands. You may be an ag journalist, but it is your responsibility to call out those who are using scare tactics against an industry that is merely abiding by the rules and protocols developed to ensure safety and sustainability. Thank you for doing so.

Merely the thoughts of another college student ;)

Gene Schriefer (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

There's that pesky transparency thing again. Show me the data. Asking specifically to provide the author with some references and sources in order to review and see if your conclusion were warranted. You choose to ignore the request.

Responding to the students' full request would have taken a bit of effort, instead you brushed it off with "it's complex", implying perhaps they could not understand the issue. maybe providing an example of the complexity of the issue would have helped.

In stead of money talking points every time, how about acknowledging consumer concerns. "Farmers/ranchers are just as concerned about antibiotic resistance as consumer, we're consumer too, and take steps to reduce the use of these substance to maintain their effectiveness into the future to benefit society. As better or new methods are developed that can replace antibiotic use, so we are less reliant on these farmers/ranchers will adopt them."

The stand industry line is - All farmers and ranchers are pure as the driven snow and never do a single thing wrong that should ever be questioned in the manner in which we do it. one sided? knee jerk reactions? you bet.

Greg Klug (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

Hi Amanda
I didn't read the whole thing, no time for that this morning...... I read as far as the AID's problem. The amount of different drugs a person uses to treat that condition would surely lead & the length of time they have to take said drugs, to drug resistance. But to say, oh you can't have drugs to treat your AIDS condition, because it might lead to problems to the greater share of people, sorry, you should of known better than get AIDS.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Humans who are immunocompromised (spelling is correct) whether genetically or by HIV or by organ transplant rejection therapy or other causes, are ideal breeding grounds for resistant organisms. Sad but true. This is why these unfortunate people also have a high incidence of tuberculosis and other infections.

Brad De Groot (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

As you recognized, your initial response was curt and defensive, even if basically correct. You would have been wise to find out who is working in the field of antimicrobial use in livestock and antimicrobial resistance and direct him to one of them or to their work. Drs. Mike Apley at KSU, Virginia Fajt at TAMU, Hans Cotzee at Iowa State U and Randy Singer at the University of MN are veterinarians who have all worked in this area. Dr. Apley has been involved in policy development. Dr. Tom Wittum is a veterinary epidemiologist at the Ohio State U who has investigated antimicrobial resistance in livestock.

I had the opportunity to participate in Bayer's defense of water soluble enrofloxacin for use in broilers around the year 2000. Part of that effort involved reviewing the bases for CDC and FDA opinions that agricultural use of antimicrobials is a major contributor to resistance. It was not compelling, but that conclusion was only the result of careful and detailed analysis. At a superficial level without careful attention to evidence for causation, the case for significant agricultural contribution to antimicrobial resistance did appear irrefutable. I have not kept abreast of the current literature, but I suspect the situation is still similar.

So, the students initial request appeared somewhat antagonistic but basically honest. We missed an opportunity to help someone appreciate the complexity of the issue and the result is that he appears resolute in his opposition to antimicrobial use in livestock.

DBD (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I have several comments on this discussion, however I will admit that I don't currently have the time to look for research that truly supports my thoughts (which I guess places me in with a majority of individuals arguing points....). First off, perhaps you should have provided him with more information for your side of the argument, but I think his mind was made up before he sent you the first email, and he likely would have just used your information as more to strike down. As mentioned, the issue is far more complex than can be put into a short article. It would take volumes to truly cover the issue of resistance and how it occurs and what effect it has on animals and humans alike.
I believe that the CDC and WHO are full of intelligent well educated individuals, but in the end, they are tasked with supporting human medicine and thus at some level are biased and will likely always point the finger at the animal industry for blame.
I question the overuse of antibiotics on the human medicine side. Again, I don't have research to back this, but how often to people take themselves of their children to the doctor for a cold and walk out with antibiotics without any diagnostics? How often are those infections viral and thus not affected by the antibiotics? (yes I know all about secondary infections and understand) How often are those prescribed meds taken for the full course? How often do they get taken for the first four days and once the individual is feeling better they stop taking the meds? THAT is how resistance occurs!
If you want to talk about antibiotics in cattle, I would argue that the majority are used for prevention or treatment of disease not growth promotion. Then you need to discuss how many of the diseases that we see in cattle actually infect humans. We see resistant bacteria in cattle, but how often do those bacteria transfer to humans? When was the last time you saw a feedlot "Dr." in the hospital with a resistant infection he contracted from one of the hundreds/thousands of deathly ill cattle they handle every year.
Just a few thoughts.....

on Mar 12, 2014

DBD's comments about the misuse of antibiotics in human medicine hit the nail squarely on the head.

IMO the consumer public is continually misled that it's the use in animals that is the cause of resistance.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

DBD you and many operate on the false paradigm that not taking the full prescribed course of antibiotics is a cause of resistance. It may lead to relapse, but not to resistance.
Being both a physician and a cattleman for 54 and 50 years respectively, my biases tend to balance out. I have also had occasion to review a case in the New England Journal of Medicine where a veterinarian likely carried home a resistant organism that was subsequently grown out of his son's appendicitis specimen! (I also argued that the germ could have traveled in the opposite direction.)
Here follow a recent letter to the Atlantic about human research done at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a most prestigious and competent hospital where Drs. Linder and Barnett were functional also in the same false paradigm.
We are operating on a false paradigm for treating acute infections. My bias includes Dr. Dykers' Cold Medicine to comfort patients not needing antibiotics.
Nicole Allan's lead (The Atlantic, Mar 2014, page 34)(1) echoes Drs. Linder and Barnett 'the vast majority of antibiotics prescribed for sore throat and bronchitis --- are useless', that can only be certain in hindsight. Sections 3,4,5&6 are spot on and crucial. Following is my letter to Drs. Linder and Barnett, edited.
Mathematically evolution of resistance is directly related to time of exposure of germ to antibiotic. Acute infections should be treated as promptly as possible when the innoculum is smallest and most susceptible and when it is most difficult to be certain of the need for antibiotic. Early, a single dose of antibiotic may be transformative, tipping the balance in favor of the patient's own defence mechanisms. It is glib and unknowable to claim 'unnecessary' as NOBODY knows what the organism is early, viral or bacterial or both, and secondary bacterial infection with the complications of mastoiditis, ruptured eardrums, peritonsilar or sinus abcess and encephalitis, are just as real in the 'don't use antibiotics' era as in the post antibiotic era.
"Antibiotic resistance is inevitable". The culprit is duration and dose. The worst treatment is ampicillin 250 mg three times a day for 10 days and be sure to take it all, an old doctor's tale nurtured by laziness and based on eradicating strep with penicillin to prevent rheumatic fever, a beautiful study done in Utah in the early 1960's.
Treatment should be with at least 2 antibiotics in the biggest doses tolerable, each chosen to kill germs missed by the other. Encourage the patient to stop if dramatic improvement and accept the risk of relapse. Reevaluate in 48 to 72 hours, prepared to change treatment in a heartbeat as time will improve judgement.
If a patient presents after feeling bad several days, judgement is improved, and if exam and a white blood cell count and differential indicate the patient is winning, avoid antibiotics, but if they are in pain and 'sick'(Judgement call - live with the uncertainty!) go back to plan A. Treat urinary tract symptoms as quickly as humanly possible, but Culture urines before starting antibiotics, even if the sample is taken at home in a boiled mayonaise jar and put in the fridge 'till morning. Having partially treated cystitis turn into pyelonephritis without a culture and we have a very sick patient and only guesses for therapy.
Section 2 is also vital. Crowding is the culprit even in good conditions for poultry and pigs. I have no idea what these industries can do. Comingling is the culprit for beef in sale barns, shipping and feedlots.(think your kids going to day care) We have learned that we can move the feed to the cattle less expensively than move the cattle to the feed in many settings but not all. Have more grass than cows and bring the feed to calves bred for rapid growth and they need less feed. Keep the herd on pasture and antibiotics can be reserved only for the occassional sickness. Harvest big and young and tender and profitable.
John R. Dykers, Jr. MD

Chair, Thursday Morning Intellectual Society, retired.

New Hope Farm, CharLean Beef (TM)

PO Box 565, Siler City, NC, 27344


Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

Antibiotic resistant E. coli transfers to humans when the meat is consumed. Those E. Coli live in the gut of feed lot cattle and the meat is contaminated at slaughter. There is a particular strain unique to feed lot cattle...(my grass fed herd doesn't have this strain in their gut.) The reason those bacteria are antibiotic resistant is because they live in the gut of animals that are dosed with antibiotics on a daily basis. The beef industry wishes it was a complex issue so they could continue with the smoke and mirrors with the American public but when 75% of antibiotics produced in the US are fed to livestock it is a pretty hard sell.

Ward (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I hope you have learned from this experience and that next time someone approaches you about an article you have written, you should be prepared to support your argument with scientific data. All too often it is far too easy to give blanket statements without any fact or data to support such statements. The animal agriculture industry is under attack and if journalists like yourself don't do their due diligence to put out accurate information then we are fighting a losing battle. So I challenge you and all other ag journalists, ranchers, feeders, and other people who promote the animal agricultural industry, to not write/say/publish comments that can not be backed up by science. And when a young, inquisitive mind comes to you again, please give him/her the time they deserve and give a detailed response so the industry is not viewed in this light again.

on Mar 12, 2014

Regardless of the facts that could have been provided to this student, it would not have changed his opinion. He has an agenda that is based on emotion and half truths, and no amount of factual information would change that. His initial use of the term "factory farms" shows where he sits on the issue, and nothing will move him anywhere near the middle in discussing this issue.

And one more point. Dr. Hurd is one of the most knowledgeable people in the country on this issue, and I highly respect his opinions.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

75% of antibiotics produced in the US are administered to livestock. It is a verifiable fact. The American public should not want to eat animals that are so sick they need that amount of medication. Oh wait...never mind...the animals are not sick ...the livestock is fed antibiotics as a growth enhancer. Do you see the problem with that argument? It's a blatant lie...the truth is that feed lot cattle are sick...they have mild acidosis and it makes them go off their feed...small doses of antibiotics fed daily fixes that problem. Long ago someone found a way to make money solving the problem of feedlot cattle dying from acidosis when the most obvious solution...put the cattle back on grass...was skipped over because it only made the farmer money.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I think this young man is seriously misguided. It appears he had an agenda from the outset. One of his biggest criticisms is that of your references, yet he provides none of his own to contradict any of the information you provided. Instead he uses ambiguous statements like "any objective reader.

I would have also responded with the following points

1. The misuse of antibiotics encompasses the human population as well. Many doctors over-prescribe antibiotics to keep patients happy. Further, patients routinely discontinue taking antibiotics after they start feeling better. Both practices contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance and in a much more important population of bacteria; those already affecting humans.

2. Many of the classes of antibiotics used in livestock are not used or not used extensively in humans.

3. In a rebuttal - Antibiotics are not used to treat HIV and cancer as the student claims. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses. Might I suggest he enroll in my animal health course.

4. Ask him to define factory farm.

5. Finally, ask him to join you in the ownership and treatment of a group of sick cattle, and to do so without the use of antibiotics.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I feel there is a lot of trial and error when it comes to antibiotics. You have to understand how they work. They don't cure anything. The animal cures itself, the medications just alter the chemistry within. Most animals and humans get sick by how they are cared for. The feed they eat and the environment they are in. The bottom line is that if we "doctor-up" these animals just to keep them alive or to boost performance, would we the producer be willing to eat the same animal that has had all the medication? If the answer is no then why should we expect someone else who doesn't know to eat that animal? We can't be hypocrites!!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

We are too one-sided. We need to be honest with the public and admit that there is antibiotic resistance and we do use 80% the amount of total antmicrobials in our productions systems. But the public needs to know that the 80% that is cited is on a VOLUME basis and because we treat on a body weight basis, we will inherently use more. That's just the math! Which raises the question, why does someone who weighs 120 lbs get the same dosage of an antibiotic as someone who weighs 250 lbs? Additionally, of that 80% some 60% or more is in the form of antimicrobials that are not in any way used in human medicine and therefore there does not carry over to human illness resistance. We are having the right discussion in the wrong way. We aren't comparing apples to apples and we are only showing our bias. Being defensive does not appeal to anyone and only strengthens their fears. So just admit what we do but explain why and how. After I have these conversations with people, they feel more comfortable with the information.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

College students have not had the living experience of most ranchers who have learned how to deal with health problems of animals. We do not use any antibiotics with our cattle because they range on 5 acres per head, they are organic raised. Over the years, I have not seen any health benefit to cattle from the high priced antibiotics. Healthy cattle are like healthy people, there is no benefit from antibiotics at almost prohibitive costs.
We probably are defensive about the methods of cattle raising because we are under constant attacks from individuals who must feel that cattle and other animals used for food should be treated like house pets. Cattle and other meat sources are not pets, they are part of a business, and smart raisers treated their animals well.

DM05 (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

A few quick points:
1) When they say "antibiotic use for growth promotion" they are pretty much saying ionophores, which are not used at all in human medicine. Take ionophores out of the total numbers and see what you find.

2) Every single time therapeutic antibiotics are used - in any species, including humans - we are selecting for antibiotic resistence. That is a fact that cannot be denied.

3) Beef producers - especially the ranchers with large herds - raise cattle with the health of the herd in mind. I think we don't tell the general public enough about husbandry practices - preconditioning, low stress handling, fence line weaning - that are in place in order to keep cattle healthy and reduce the need for antibiotic treatment. That being said, we should recognize that we could also get better, and we should strive to always do better for our cattle. Mass treatment with tetracyclines in the feed could be dramatically reduced right now (far to many feed salesman are profiting off of this). Fewer 200-300 pound calves could go through multiple sale barns, and end up on a truck for 8+ hours with 120 other calves from 60 different herds. We can do better.

4) Getting defensive is not going to win any supporters. We as an industry have to be open and honest with the consumer about what we do and how we treat our cattle.

I would say +90% of the cattle raised in the US are treated in a manner that nearly all consumer could agree with, and a vast majority receive antibiotics only when necessary. We need to get that message out, and we need to stop tolerating the status quo when it comes to bad cattlemen and stop some people from thinking that mass treatment is the only way to keep cattle alive. No matter what your stance is, everyone needs to agree that we can always do better. Consumers are demanding that we work to improve the industry (mainly through animal treatment and antibiotic use), and if we don't recognize that we may start seeing fewer consumers of our products.

on Mar 12, 2014

Write back to the young man and ask him to define a "factory farm" and a "non factory farm". To this day I'm yet to find someone either inside the industry or outside the industry that can give me a definitive definition of the term "factory farm". Is it ten cows, a hundred acres, a hundred cows, a thousand acres, a feedlot, a patch of grass with a feed bunk in the middle of it, an automated milking parlor, what?????

Invite him to come on this blog and let's rationally discuss the difference in terms used to define the aspects of our industry.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

Hindsight is wonderful. First, I wish you had inundated that young man with verifiable research from impeccable Universities and medical facilities citing both the higher incidences of hospital/doctor over-use of antibiotics in humans, the incidences of resistant MRSA illnesses in hospital and nursing home workers, and the low incidences of illnesses crossing animal/human barriers. And asking him to cite his sources, other than CDC and WHO, since they seem more than a bit one sided and may be using the fears to increase their budgets, IMO.

Mr. Rutherford, pretty clearly this student is enjoying his jabs at an older, established journalist while bashing several entities he just as clearly disdains: factory farms (has anyone defined that term?); cattlemen conducting business for 'capital gains' and use of antibiotics provides a competitive edge by increasing weight and health of their cattle; and he disdains Mr. Rutherford as "his role as Sr. Editor is to keep BEEF readers informed of trends and production practices to bolster the bottom line which is a clear conflict of interest and blatantly dishonest".

As a rancher wishing to be informed, I see no conflict of interest in an editor informing us of trends and practices, how about the other readers?

Having been in the business of raising cows for 64 years now (age ten when receiving my first calf for helping care for cows at home), I am very weary of ill-informed people telling us all we care about is profit. Why is that such a dirty word? Would those who use it as such prefer that we all go out of business? The probably would since many of them seem to also be promoting vegetarian diets.

EM (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

When people go into the Doctor for every little sneeze. Get an Rx. Doesn't this have a real impact on antibiotic resistance?You have to follow guidelines per weights and age for an animal treated. One size does not fit all.....

Roderick Moss (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

Burt, The simple way to solve this debate is to label all meat and poultry as to whether the animals have been fed antibiotics or not fed antibiotics. As most persons know the current prices for labeled organic/drug free food products are higher than non-labeled food products. Let the consumer have the choice, cheaper priced products or higher priced products . The questions to be answered: Does the traditional livestock producer want to label "antibiotic free" or does the consumer even care ?

Randall N. (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I find it interesting you utilized the phrase "intellectually lazy" in what you describe as a "curt" response. Who was lazy? It would be helpful to give producers science based facts in this type of article. Rather we often just get what writers think the readers want to hear. I trust the science used by the FDA in approving antibiotics for livestock use. a reference such as the following may have aided the student in finding differently:

RWH (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I believe both sides of this issue lack credibility and scientific fact. It would be interesting to see a study not sponsored by a pharmaceutical company that would provide specific data as to levels of antibotics and hormones that exist in the commercial meat supply. Once the existence or non existence is established, the effects on human health can be addressed in a similar non biased manner.

Charlie Powell (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

Here are some facts:

Science is never complete. There is always the next question or else it's not science; it's opinion. To rely on current science and worse yet, regulatory approval alone, as justifications for being defensive and dismissive of one's stakeholders is to render oneself very vulnerable to the argumentative process, critical thinking, misinformation, and disinformation from coming from any number of sectors.

In physics, one is taught that Nature abhors a vacuum. That phenomenon is also true in the social sciences. If one leaves it to others to address one's stakeholders first and repeatedly then all responses in the future will by simple timing be defensive and insufficient.

The animal industries have traditionally, and continue to, leave a deadly void in information transmission to their stakeholders. We do not communicate often, repeatedly, redundantly, and across all media and no industry today can afford to not do so. What information flow there is now is barely sufficient and in no way proficient. And once the public has been emotionally tilted by the first-word, opposing entities, the cost of communicating goes up exponentially and the effectiveness of it suffers greatly.

How about a bumper sticker with some humility for a change? How about one that reads: "We can do better."

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

Unfortunatley it has become "Politically Correct" to bash our Ag industries in the US. Although we have without question, the safest and most affordable food supply in the world.

Beef production gets thrown into the antibiotic argument only because some (the "Natural Beef" people), decided to call inophores "antibiotics" which they are not, but it makes thier product appear "cleaner". Unfortunatley the industry let this false claim go un challenged. Once a person has formed an opinion whether right or wrong it is nearly impossible to reverse.

No different is the term "Factory Farm". How can someone conclude that a hobby farmer with a few cows would be better at the care and management of livestock than a person that is totally invested in a larger full time operation. Only because the anti ag movement has convinced them that any person that is profiting from ag is bad. Maybe it is time for them to learn that if all of the bad people (those trying to profit) were removed we would lose around 98% of our food supply they could see things a little differently.

Stuv (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

I think you answered the only way you could. You probably had an idea the guy was going to do a hatchet job and you replied as best you could.

That being said, posting his article in your magazine or on your website only pushes his viewpoint to your readers. You are forwarding the enemy line by doing that.

The correct thing to do would be to put out as many articles forwarding your own viewpoint as possible. Maybe write one based on each of the 140 references you mentioned but didn't cite.

You must supply something that definitely goes against what your opponents are saying. You must also get that something from a reputable source. Note that a reputable source in this case is not someone funded by CAFO cattle raisers. CAFO cattle raisers do not have a good repute with the people whose minds you are trying to sway.

On the question of being one-sided. I don't think you have a choice. A quick glance at your magazine shows that it is funded by CAFO cattle raisers and those that supply them. If you could come up with something that would make the other side happy while still keeping your advertisers, I would be very surprised.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

It is always difficult to prove the negative. Most Americans consume a wide variety of pharmaceuticals on their own. We even have government subsidies for prescriptions, and how many drug stores are in YOUR town?

The sub-theraputic dose of antibiotics present in animal production feeds is there for a proven reason - it maintains animal health in and under the prevailing conditions where they are raised. Producers won't purchase unnecessary meds in the same way farmers won't waste purchased irrigation water. The marketplace is the proving grounds for winners and losers, as opposed to government regulations which just PICK them.

The critique was written well, but from a likely pre-destined standpoint of ignorance. My advice is - raise your own and let us know how well that works out for you.

on Mar 12, 2014

Any article reporting what a study says, without providing the study, links, or other ways of obtaining the study, is not worth the paper it is written on or the time it takes to read it. Being a researcher, I can tell you that any study has limitations and assumptions. These are critical to understanding the article. Most reports of studies come from abstracts and they often cherry pick the abstract without stating the complete abstract, which often has cautions about application of the study. In many cases, studies are performed to determine if further research is warranted. So next time give the references.

I do find the CDCs position hypocritical as they are large promoters of the flu shot vaccines, their huge cash cow.

I believe caution is the best use of antibiotics. Use them as a cure or against a neighboring threat, not as a wholesale preventative.

Just remember who your customers are and accept those that meet customer demands are more likely to be successful. There is nothing wrong with providing for the antibiotic market, the Non-GMO market, or the pasture chicken market. What we must do is remain vigil of anyone trying to pass laws that cater to these markets because it is politically correct. I don't think the average American has an opinion and if it is FDA or USDA approved is O.K.

Amy Patrick (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

You just missed a golden opportunity!!!!!
As you said, your answer was curt and since the audience you need to reach are the future beef buyers, it would have been your and our advantage as beef producers to point to unbiased research, and the "direction" for information to prove your case. A college campus is a great forum for correct information. And believe me they WILL TALK!!!

I worte this paper (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

First, I love meat, I love cattlemen, and I have no agenda, basically because no one pays me....I am a "community college student." My role was to critique this particular article. An objective reader can not take this article seriously because Mr. Rutherford did not mention real concerns the medical community has. Also, I did cite my sources and did give them to Mr. Rutherford. Furthermore, I agree antibiotic over use in hospitals gives greater cause for concern. I will say the rate at which bacteria are growing resistant is frightening. Is penicillin used for anything these days? and yet it saved millions of lives 50 years ago. There is only one antibiotic left that can treat gonorrhea and it is evolving. I think until pharmaceuticals co.'s start producing solutions, the public has a right to demand that livestock farmers design a new model for how they raise beef, chicken, etc. And also the public has a right to demand that antibiotics use should be measured under "strict scrutiny." P.S., I didn't realize factory farms was a derogatory term and I retract.

on Mar 12, 2014

I'm so glad you came to this conversation with your post and am impressed with your willingness to wade into this subject (antibiotics) of discussion because it is one of the largest concerns of this industry.

Please see my post below about "factory Farm"

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

As a cattleman I can't really say that "Factory Farms" is derogatory as much as confusing. How else does the consumer expect to have an abundant supply of safe and affordable food produced by a minute fraction of the population at a very slim profit margin? Agricultural operations are no different than any other business, you have to have a scale of efficiency to remain in business. And yes business' do require at least some profit to be sustainable.

W.E. (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

A factory is an institution that produces a great quantity of something on a regular basis in a short space of time. A farm is an area of land used for growing food and livestock. So in the cattle industry, a factory farm is an area of land used for growing large quantities of livestock for food in a short space of time; i.e., a feedlot. By contrast, the grass-farmer's cattle operation concentrates on the well-being of the grass and the land, allowing the well-being of the cattle to follow at its natural pace. It is this point that vastly separates the feedlot from the pasture, making the use of anti-biotics a non-issue for the grass farmer. A healthy calf grown out at a natural pace on high-quality grass can easily out-perform a sick or dead calf in a feedlot.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 15, 2014

You should be careful not to dislocate your shoulder while patting yourself on the back so hard and often. Just so you know EVERYONE of our 1500 mother cows eat of all things GRASS ! and guess what thier calves do also, but I guess that you have deemed us a Factory Farm just based on size. After 5 generations of my family operating this business YOU just decided that we were NOT a Family Farm but instead a Factory Farm. Yes our calves leave here as natural as the day they were born and yes sometimes they go to a grower that plays the "All Natural" or "Grass Fed" game, But most are like the chicken shell game of Free Range or Cage Free. Myself I see most of them as dishonest labeling just to part someone from a few more bucks.

The world cannot feed itself using 1930's technology and soon will test its ability to feed itself with 21st century technology. What are we as an industry doing to ourselves when we have people joining with the fear mongers trying to disparage our own industry just so you can make an extra buck off of an illusion?

Technology has and is changing our whole world. Would you go to a Doctor or Dentist who only uses only 1930's equipment? Or how about letting diseases like Small pox and Polio run rampant again? Could you afford a vehicle that had to be totally hand assembled? How about if your kids had to leave school at the 8th grade to help provide for the family? What if our military was limited to use only single shot rifles and bayonetts to defend our country?

W.E. (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

In the 1930s, no one was using the simple but effective technology that is portable electric fencing. That technology changes everything about livestock farming, allowing farmers and ranchers to be true stewards of the land. We're not patting ourselves on the back, we are patting grass farmers on the back for entering the new age of management intensive grazing, local production and land stewardship. We played the feedlot game during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. It was never good for our land or profitable for us because our cattle passed through many other hands and ended up a thousand miles from home. Keeping calves at home nourishes our land with their manure. In the feedlots, manure is a big stinky problem. There are plenty of beef eaters within a hundred miles of our farm. We don't have to ship our beeves a thousand miles to feed them, and much petroleum is saved. Anonymous, could it be that you are the one who is behind the times?

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What's BEEF Editors' Blog?

Everyday musings from BEEF Editors on the latest beef industry news and events.


Burt Rutherford

Burt has more than 35 years of experience communicating about beef industry issues. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works...

Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

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