Antibiotics used in livestock: Making us even more… confused?

Antibiotics used in livestock: Making us even more… confused?

I’ll keep this one short. I opened an article yesterday entitled Antibiotics used in livestock: Making us even sicker than we thought, which set out to convince readers that the antibiotics that are given to cows as a prophylactic measure (and to make them grow faster, apparently) are bad for our health and are potentially causing obesity. I very much wanted to believe that there was evidence of this because I’m a crazy hippie who would totally buy all my meat from small, sustainable farms if I had the money. But just because you’re not a Conservative doesn’t mean you won’t earn my ire when you fail at logical argumentation. And there are an increasing number of Lefties whose arguments regarding wheat, organics, GMOs, etc., are seriously lacking. I’m considering starting “the Logic Party: for people who think through shit.”

The writer (“beach babe in fl”) makes the following points:

  1. Prophylactic antibiotic use maybe linked to the increasing prevalence of “superbugs.”
  2. These antibiotics may help cows grow faster by screwing with their gut flora.
  3. A recent Nature paper suggests a correlation between messed up gut flora and obesity in humans.
  4. This is consistent with another article in the Journal of Obesity that found that young children given antibiotics were more likely to be obese later in life.
  5. “All this supports the ideas that eating a poor diet or taking lots of antibiotics may be factors in the obesity epidemic and associated health problems, in part, because of the way they affect our gut microbes, [one of the scientists mentioned] says.”

Cool. How is any of that proof that what we’re doing to cows is bad for me, as the title suggests? There is no evidence proffered that the antibiotics make their way into my system when I eat livestock who are raised this way. There’s no evidence proffered that this use for antibiotics demonstrably caused a rise in the number of antibiotic prescriptions for humans, nor of young children, more importantly. There is no logical support anywhere in the article (granted, I haven’t yet read the Nature paper) for the title. And how do most of the commenters react? In the vein of “OMG, I knew it!” of course. 

I’m half tempted to turn this into a lengthy rant about the faults of education in this country–not teaching argumentative logic among them–but I’ve got to go meet some folks [about teaching poor kids how to code *because* the education is so bad in underserved parts of Chicago] so it’ll have to wait. Sigh. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for actual proof to back any of the fringe health movements you care about, folks!


4 thoughts on “Antibiotics used in livestock: Making us even more… confused?

  1. Okay, this is my job, so I have to jump in and say how much I hate it when people who know nothing about agriculture write crap like “beach babe in fl” has. Here goes:

    Firstly, animals (like people) get sick and require antibiotics. I like sick animals to have access to medication because I care about animal welfare. Antibiotic-free farming operations have 2 choices when dealing with sick animals:
    1. Deny them access to treatment, resulting in poor animal welfare practices, and a miserable, early, wasteful death.
    2. Sell sick animals (which happen, because duh) down the road to the neighbor who treats the animal and ends up with a wholesome product that can be sold without compromising the well-being of the animal while alive.

    Secondly, antibiotics can be used as a means of allowing animals to grow more efficiently. Low doses of antibiotics (not typically used in humans) can be administered, most frequently through animal feed. Because of the way digestion works, these antibiotics ultimately leave the body through metabolic processes. To ensure that this occurs prior to livestock becoming a carcass, there are federally mandated withdrawal periods which must be observed. Animals which have received antibiotics (or vaccines, etc.) too close to the slaughter date are not permitted for human consumption. This is heavily audited and major fines are imposed on offending producers and slaughterhouses (so, slaughterhouses are very interested in ensuring that their producers are following protocol, and discontinue business with violating producers).

    As for the claims regarding obesity, I find it completely absurd. Obesity rates are a result of readily available caloric intake. I have met few people on a 2,000 calorie/day diet with a reasonable level of physical activity that struggle with obesity. There’s more to double cheeseburgers than beef, people.

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