In one of its more typical fits of bowing to popular prejudice, the EU is banning farm preventative antibiotic use, with the alleged purpose of reducing the threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, though probably they’re mostly just caving into pressure from the “drugs = bad” lobby.
It has always seemed to me that these arguments ignore a basic fact: antibiotics have overused in agriculture for well over 60 years. Starting in the Forties, poultry magazines showed farmers striding manfully towards the poultry house, carrying a five-gallon bucket of antibiotics. Modern technology can do much, but it can never restore the virginity of these aged drugs!
As it turns out, the older antibiotics are still the ones most commonly used in agriculture, even as human medicine is moving on to newer ones. So it seems like bowing to reality is in order, and exempting these elderly antibiotics.
Of course, the anti-medication lobby doesn’t like this. They’re sort of stuck, though, since to have any public support at all, they need meat and eggs to remain cheap, and this requires high-density confinement techniques — and all the horrific threats of contagion that such crowding implies. At the same time, they really hate many aspects of high-density confinement. Their usual solution is to embrace the delusion that farmers are nothing but a bunch of morons, and the techniques they use are nothing but a bunch of enormous blunders. The non-farmers can wave their magic wand and it’ll be nothing but rainbows and unicorns from here on in.
My experience is that farmers running on razor-thin profit margins don’t spend money unnecessarily or use techniques that don’t work — they can’t, or they’ll go broke in a heartbeat.
And it’s not like anyone has ever gotten rich running a commodity egg farm under the conditions proposed by animal welfarists. “If you’re so right, why ain’t you rich?” There’s nothing like someone becoming a millionaire to spark a new trend in agriculture. Hal Schudel, who revolutionized Christmas tree farming in Oregon and used to live up the road from me, did exactly that, and the Starker family, which revolutionized sustainable logging and whose holdings border on my property on two sides, did the same, and so have many others.
It’s true that antibiotics are more or less irrelevant in the kind of low-density, free-range farming I do, and if everyone were willing to pay $10 a dozen, the problem would be solved! ($10 a dozen is what my eggs would have to sell for in the big city, to provide a reasonable markup for the retailer and distributor.)
As long as most consumers insist on cheap eggs, most eggs will be produced using cheap methods. That’s why going after lawmakers and producers is not only undemocratic, it’s ineffective — it ignores what the people are actually willing to buy and do.