What’s in the beef?

02 Mar

I read the following in a recent press release on and I thought I would share.

According to the office of U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY), more than 60 fast-food companies, livestock producers, meat and poultry processors and retailers received a letter from the congresswoman asking for disclosure of the use of antibiotics in the products they sell.

“In the past year alone, we have had more outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella associated with contaminated meat and poultry than any other year, leaving behind a trail of victims that cannot be treated with common antibiotics,” she wrote in the letter sent to fast-food companies.

Companies are asked to respond to the letter by June 15, 2012, providing information about their policy with suppliers regarding antibiotic use; consumer education programs relating to antibiotic use; percentage of meat and poultry supplies that come from animals given antibiotics for therapeutic vs. non-therapeutic reasons; and any planned policy changes regarding the use of antibiotics.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Slaughter. “We just want to know, ‘what’s in the beef?’”

Some of you might know Mrs. Slaughter from her 2007 legislation titled The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which aims to limit the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry. In December, she authored an Op-Ed piece for the Huffington Post, “What’s in Your Christmas Ham?”

She is still trying diligently to move this legislation through Congress and is now turning to the media to drum up a public outcry in order to move it. Her theory is that long term feeding of antibiotics to livestock will cause pathogens to develop that are resistant to antibiotics. This would let bacteria experience a non-lethal dose of the antibiotic so they have the ability to adapt. Antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella are generally used as examples. Most research shows this is not reproducible but there are many political forces pushing this agenda.

The simple fact is that there is very little antibiotic feed for growth promotion. Some tetracyclines like aureomycin are used during periods of stress or as a mass medicate to prevent illness for groups in a new environment, but are not fed throughout the feeding process. The large amount of fed antibiotics in USDA or FDA statistics are ionophores (Rumensin and Bovatec) which have some antimicrobial properties but are mainly used to shift the rumen’s volatile fatty acid production to enhance the production of propionic acid. This yields enhanced gains and feed efficiency which is good for the environment with less feed being used to produce beef and less greenhouse gas emissions emitted from the back end of the cattle. Ionophores are not used in human medicine and pose no threat but the industry is in danger of losing them as a tool with Mrs. Slaughter’s legislation.

I can understand the fear and believe that antibiotics like tetracyclines and pencillins should be used judiciously to ensure health of both animal and man. But with broad based legislation, we throw the baby out with the bath water. We reduce producers’ ability to treat animals in a timely manner, prevent infection and improve production efficiency, all for a theory. Scientists are split and no connection between antibiotics used in animals and resistant bacteria has been proven.

Another potential cause of antibiotic resistant bacteria is the prevalence of antibiotic prescriptions in human health care. “So you have a cold? Here have some antibiotics.” The common cold is a virus and antibiotics don’t kill viruses. Also, a large group of people don’t complete their cycle of antibiotics. They feel better so they stop taking the pills. This also exposes bacteria to levels of the antibiotic that are non-lethal allowing them to adapt.

To put it simply, we, as beef producers, use these FDA approved products according to label instructions or through extra label instructions from a veterinarian to treat sick animals and to prevent illness in some cases. There is no rampant use of antibiotics in the industry for the simple fact that they are very expensive. Ranchers work in a small margin commodity business that punishes overspending. So the sick are treated, cattle are vaccinated or illness is prevented, in order provide the best health and care for the animal, not to improve gains.

Natural and non-hormone treated cattle programs are becoming more popular with the consumer and more ranchers are buying in for the premiums. I get to work with a number of these ranchers because Limousin work well in these programs. For most, it is doing business as usual with their record keeping and methods being verified by a third party.

All antibiotics have a withdrawal period set forth by FDA to prevent them from being in the system of the animal when slaughtered. Cattle must pass pre-mortem and post-mortem health inspections by USDA veterinarians at processing. Processing plants have plans in place to prevent contamination that were partially described in “Do Cattle Understand Death?” These plans also account for a wash post mortem, time spent in a freezer, cleaning procedures at every juncture and testing of final products for contamination by USDA inspectors before they are shipped.

Most foodborne illness can be accounted for after the cattle have left producers’ hands and by undercooked food. I appreciate a good rare steak, steak tartar or a burger cooked medium but these do come with the risk that any bacteria present, either from the cook’s hands or other contamination, might still be alive.

So what’s in the beef? Delicious protein, iron and fats that contribute to healthy, happy, well-nourished people, all thanks to producers that look out for their animals and the public’s health.


Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “What’s in the beef?

  1. Doc

    March 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm


    How do you think ionophores work? The kill organisms in the rumen that compete with desireable microbes that do produce more of the proprionic acid that is desireable. They are related to antimicrobials that are used for treatment, and when discarded by the body are present on pen surfaces and other areas where water runs off. Most of the research that considers resistance looks at meat and milk from animal treated not urine and fecal material. Many antibiotics are given to clear up urinary tract infections because they pass directly into the bladder unchanged and work at the sight of infection. The fact is that there are more and more organisms that are not affected any more by antimicrobial treatment. The way I understand the PAMTA act is that it wishes to keep antibiotics for treatment. There are other ways to improve performance without their use.

    • ruminationsfromtheroad

      March 6, 2012 at 12:06 am

      I didn’t go into ionophores changing the landscape of the rumenal flora in depth, because my main point was that these anti-microbials are working on microbes that are not in human medicine. So they have little effect, if any, on antibiotic resistant bacteria in human health. I also didn’t touch on the decreased incidence of coccidiosis due to ionophores. With a decreased number of cattle available, I don’t think that we can lose the efficiency and health benefits of such a compound. The decreased efficiency and performance would dramatically effect feedlot margins and beef supply, in turn driving up beef prices in a poor economy. Plus ionophores have been in use since the 1970s and no link has been established that they cause bacterial resistance.

      The industry is currently researching ways to select for genetic feed efficiency but those tools are years away in some cases. There are some producers that are making natural and NHTC products that are gaining market share. To outlaw something because you don’t like it or are afraid of it without scientific proof just seems foolish. I think consumers should have the freedom of choosing beef and they have the choice of choosing beef that was raised to their standards. Whether that be inexpensive and safe or natural and safe. Let the market decide.

  2. Carmina Branche

    March 14, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Hello there: thanks for using the time of producing up this details. I constantly attempt to even more my knowledge of elements. No matter if I concur or disagree, I love specifics. I recall the old times if the only supply of information and facts was the library or the newspaper. They both seem so old. : )


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