Late last year, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-New York), ranking member of the House Rules Committee, hosted a briefing where farmers and successful businesses extolled the benefits of tapping into the growing domestic and international demand for antibiotic-free meat. Slaughter is the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) legislation to ensure we preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for the treatment of human disease. She was joined by a panel made up of Steve Ells, chairman and CEO, Chipotle Grill; Stephen McDonnell, CEO, Applegate Farms; Russ Kremer, co-founder and president, Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative; and Paul Willis, manager and founder, Niman Ranch Pork Company, a network of more than 676 independent sustainable farms.
Niman Ranch supplies pork to Chipotle and Applegate Farms, which sells antibiotic-free meat at large retail chains.
As each person on the panel supported Slaughter’s agenda, Progressive Dairyman invited M. Gatz Riddell, Jr., DVM, executive vice president, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, to provide a comment and contrasting view.
“Countries like South Korea and Germany are implementing bans on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in healthy food animals. Even China has been progressing toward banning the use of antibiotics in healthy food animals. Meanwhile the U.S. government has done nothing, and that’s a real shame. I firmly believe that without federal action, this will become a trade issue when the American farmer will no longer be able to compete on a level playing field as other nations will refuse to import meat full of antibiotics.”
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter
“We have now switched over so that the vast majority of our meats are naturally raised. We buy about 100 million pounds of antibiotic-free meat a year and that’s still not enough to supply Chipotle and we’re still growing quickly. There’s a huge, huge demand for this and we get all kinds of feedback from customers telling us how much they appreciate this, how good they feel about feeding their families food that was raised responsibly, that they know is healthier and better for them and their families.”
“Since 1989, after all those years, my hogs have been drug-free. I did it, not because I knew about Whole Foods or Chipotle or Niman Ranch – I didn’t even know what natural organic meant. I did it because I was so remorseful that I had been doing something wrong to society that I quit. It was the right thing to do. It was extremely sustainable for me, I didn’t have to pay those $16,000-a-year drug bills. And it’s become one of the most satisfying lifestyles you can imagine, now dealing with happy, healthy pigs.”
Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative
“We just had a survey done that over 70 percent of Americans believe that resistance is a problem and over 70 percent want restrictions. So I think the reason that ag is moving is not because they want to. They are seeing the convergence of all these food trends happening and they are being forced to respond. I don’t think we should give up. I think the work that Congresswoman Slaughter is doing is amazing, and I think we should become more active in pushing brands like we represent.”
Applegate Farms, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
“This is not really a cheaper way to do things. It’s actually more expensive. When you add up the costs of the cheap meat plus the environmental degradation, the animal suffering, all the health care issues that come from the antibiotics and associated pollution, you’ll come to find something that’s much, much more expensive and bad for you too.”
“Antibiotics are approved by the FDA to be used in animals to treat, control and prevent disease with only a small proportion used to promote growth or feed efficiency. To imply, as is often done, that all antibiotic use is for growth promotion is misleading and inaccurate. The vast majority of antibiotics used in animals are used with the input of a trained veterinarian to improve the health and well-being of the animals raised in the United States for food. Demonstrated benefits of these targeted uses include the reduction of animal pain and suffering and improved food safety.”
M. Gatz Riddell, Jr., DVM
American Association of Bovine Practitioners