Organic vs. Antibiotics

My cold turned into a sinus infection, so I went to my favorite doctor to cadge come antibiotics (Dr. Foley at Philomath Family Medicine, a clinic started by hippie doctors in the Seventies, and still a laid-back and mellow place). Given my chronic sinus conditions, I do all the usual stuff, with an air filter in my office and saline nasal rinses, but sometimes the bacteria get the upper hand anyway. When this happens, it’s time to see the doctor and get some drugs. Most people do this, even people who love the idea of “natural remedies.”

(And why isn’t penicillin considered to be a natural remedy? It’s harvested directly from the penicillium mold.)

It saddens me that so many people don’t use the same approach with their livestock. The use of antibiotics sullies their political correctness and organic status, so people drag their feet and let their animals suffer before breaking out the drugs. I don’t think they have their priorities straight.

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Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

5 thoughts on “Organic vs. Antibiotics”

  1. Maybe they don’t, but neither do the large beef producers who constantly feed antibiotics to keep corn-induced acidosis in check and for the side effects of increased growth rate. Overuse of drugs is quickly destroying the viability of these medications both for humans and sick animals.

    We will not be feeding our livestock a medicated ration, but if something gets seriously sick I see no trouble in administering appropriate medication. For a commercial farm, this means loss of organic status for that animal and a corresponding hit on their profit. An obvious incentive to do nothing.

    Nobody ever said government regulation is a substitute for common sense. 🙂

  2. As long as consumers insist on buying bargain-basement beef, there will be producers producing it. Feedlots are necessary if you’re going to produce low-cost beef for cheapskates, and when you do that level of crowding, the need for constant preventative medication is only to be expected.

    I don’t see any reason to be more annoyed at producers who make things for cheapskates than at the cheapskates themselves.

    As for antibiotic tolerance, I don’t believe it. Penicillin has been grotesquely overused in agriculture for sixty years now, and is still the drug of choice for many human diseases. The same goes for the second generation of antibiotics, such as tetracycline, which have been grotesquely overused in agriculture for fifty years.

    A while ago I read that all antibiotic-resistant strains of human diseases with known origins had their start in hospitals, not farms. So the whole antibiotic thing is just another superstition: a boogeyman that people use to scare us.

    Not that I have any objection to designating particularly useful new antibiotics as “human-only,” just in case. But, outside the medical profession, it doesn’t belong on anyone’s top 100 list of things to worry about.

  3. Good catch. I stand corrected. I still think that all the dinosaur-age antibiotics like penicillin and tetracycline have been overused for so long that there’s little point to moderating their use now You can’t put that genie back into the bottle. We should save a bunch of the promising new antibiotics for human-only use, as I said before, rather than using every single antibiotic for both veterinary and human use.

  4. I did a bit of follow-up research on this as well to check if my opinion was being shaped by anti-establishment literature with poor references. Seems that most studies and bans on excessive antibiotic use in animals have been inconclusive, but a number of medical organisations in the U.S. are now calling for elimination of non-treatment usage.

    The FDA did ban the use of fluoroquinolone in poultry after links were shown between resistant strains of Campylobacter bacteria infecting humans and the drug’s use in agriculture.

    The boogeyman, “buy or die” advertising, is used both by the media and businessmen. Just like the mom watching TV who then goes out to buy toxins to pour down her toilet least Johnny play in the toilet with all those awful germs living there (apparently one has to do this after each use), how many farmers are constantly medicating their livestock because the agricultural journal warns of massive loss rates if they do otherwise?

    I get more cynical as I get older, but I question most the motives of those who stand to make the most profit.

  5. Well, that’s just the thing. Everybody lies. The folks who make Lysol overrate the danger of infection. The alternative food movement claims that their food is good but everyone else’s is toxic. The government makes equally wild claims, and backs them up with guns. They’re all lying and more or less interchangeable weasels, and I’m surprised that anybody pays any attention to any of them.

    The thing that bugs me about antibiotics is that no one seems to care about the livestock. They stopped using preventative antibiotics in Europe, which meant the number of livestock infections skyrocketed, and they had to use way more therapeutic antibiotics. Net change: there’s still lots of antibiotic use, but the livestock suffer more. I hate that.

    If you want to reduce antibiotic usage, you need to reduce crowding. This increases costs. Many people are cheapskates and won’t pay a dime for superior anything. This is a democracy, so cheapskates are a powerful force.

    This is not an easy problem to solve, and most people who try to address it don’t care about the practical stuff. They’re not farmers, they’re consumers who think that if they clap their hands and say, “I believe in fairies,” Tinkerbelle will come back to life, when what she really needs is oxygen, an IV, and her stomach pumped.

    But the whole problem changes completely if you ignore the issue of what society ought to do and focus on what you can accomplish yourself. Raising your own livestock is certainly one answer to the livestock question. The other thing that works very well is to ask around — local reputations are very powerful and are rarely wrong. Find out who the best supplier is, and settle for the best. It’s hard to do better than that unless you go into business for yourself, and have a passion for it.

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