This recent open-access publication in Frontiers expends beyond the realm of swine production and raises the question raising animals without using antibiotics. Dr. Singer from the University of Minnesota in collaboration with multiple other institutions surveyed US producers and veterinarians to gather their thoughts on the topic.
Participants in the survey were from the broiler, turkey, beef, dairy, and swine production both conventional and raised without antibiotics. They were asked questions about their perception of raising animals without antibiotics as well as their opinion of the consumers’ perceptions. More than 550 people responded to the survey and 442 described themselves as either a producer or a practicing veterinarian.
Market opportunities drive antibiotic-free production
Across species, more than 60% of the respondents raising animals without antibiotics said one of the drivers was to respond to the consumer demand. Increasing the sale price of the animal and gaining access to a retail program was the next most common reasons. On the other hand, concerns about health and welfare of the animals and being in a responsible use of antibiotics program were the two main reasons people chose to raise animals conventionally.
Impact on health and welfare of the animals
Regardless of the commodity or how they raised their animals, 60% of the respondents believed that antibiotic-free farming negatively impacted the animals’ health and welfare. However, more than 605 of the participants believed that consumers thought that antibiotic-free farming would improve the animals’ health and welfare. More than 55% of the respondents for all commodities (except for antibiotic-free beef respondents) believed that raising animals without antibiotics would have no impact, slightly worsen or significantly worsen food safety. On the contrary, the majority felt that consumers would perceive antibiotic-free farming as improving food safety. More than 80% of participants answered that raising animals without antibiotics would increase costs of production while having no impact on the consumer’s demand for their commodity. Overall, the majority agreed that more stringent health and welfare audits were needed.
What about swine?
Swine producers and veterinarians were consistent with respondents from other commodities in this study. More than 70% of the swine participants were involved in a responsible use program. 88% of the antibiotic-free and 98% of the conventional swine respondents felt that raising pigs without antibiotics would worsen their health and welfare. 82% of the swine respondents were in favor of more health and welfare audits.
Read more details regarding this study on the journal’s website.
Ensuring the safety, health, and overall well-being of animals raised for food is both an ethical obligation and a critical component of providing safe food products. The use of antibiotics for maintaining animal health has come under scrutiny in recent years due to the rise of antibiotic resistance globally. Some U.S. producers, especially in the poultry industry, have responded by eliminating their antibiotic use. The number of animals raised without antibiotics (RWA) is growing in the U.S., but there are concerns that RWA practices might negatively impact animal health and welfare. Therefore, the objective of this study was to survey U.S. veterinarians and producers about their experiences and opinions regarding RWA production. Veterinarians, farmers, ranchers, producers, and other stakeholders involved in raising broilers, turkeys, swine, beef cattle or dairy cattle were surveyed. Of the 565 completed responses received, 442 self-reported as practicing veterinarians or producers. Just over half of respondents reported having past or current experience with RWA programs. The main indicated reasons for raising animals without antibiotics were market driven; switching to RWA production was less commonly made for health-related reasons, such as to reduce antibiotic resistance or to improve animal health and welfare. Although respondents felt that RWA production has negative impacts on animal health and welfare, they overwhelmingly (>70%) indicated that the customer (retailer/restaurant/food service) believes that animal and health welfare will be significantly improved. Veterinarians and producers indicated that RWA programs will increase production costs with questionable effect on meat, egg or dairy consumer demand. Many respondents felt that there are times when the RWA label takes priority over animal health and welfare. Respondents generally felt that there was a need for increased auditing/assessment of animal health and welfare in RWA systems.