You can be antibiotic free. You can be certified humane. Can you realistically be both? I would like to think so, but unfortunately I think the two topics are antagonistic.
Unfortunately, not every animal used for food in this country is given the absolute best care. It is a tragic thing to abuse the power that humans have over animals, and though I am not yet a parent, I feel the same pains and anger when I see needless animal suffering as when I see needless child suffering. Abuse happens in this world. There are people who abuse other people. There are people who abuse their spouses, their children, their pets. As much trouble as I might get in for even saying, there are also people responsible for abuse of farmed animals. Human abuse of power is a disease which we have been sick with for generations and generations. As much as it pains me to say, there are occasions where animals destined for food use have been abused. This abuse is not necessarily intentional, and frequently it stems from ignorance. However, as with anything, ignorance of the law is no excuse to break the law.
Please do not misunderstand me: I am in no way, shape or form claiming or saying that even a single percent of animals raised for food are abused. I am only pointing out that there are people who make mistakes and abuse their power over animals occasionally, and its a problem whenever and wherever it happens. Bad people exist in every industry, in every company. It’s up to the industry to root them out and make sure they cannot damage the reputation any more.
Regardless, however, of the vetting we do, the firewalls we put up and the training we enforce, there will always be one bad apple. That’s the bad apple which could ruin the whole bushel. Recently, and as previously discussed, Subway has joined a growing number of companies which aim to remove animals treated with antibiotics from their protein sources. This is a niche market, but one that Subway will have to pay a premium to access. Producers who commit to antibiotic free will continue to see an increase in premiums paid for their animals. This is wherein lies the problem: Greed.
For every 10,000 honest ranchers, there will be one greedy individual who will see the rise in the premiums for antibiotic-free and want to capitalize on it. This individual will purchase or raise their calves and get them to the feedyard, usually with no real issues as far as bacterial infections are concerned. Once the cattle mix with other cattle and are exposed to other pathogens, and transport stress temporarily suppresses their immune system, a high percentage will get ill. Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) can infect as many as 45 out of 100 in some outbreaks, and it can kill as many as 10/100. Its an extremely common, extremely treatable disease that lowers feed intake, lowers animal growth and hurts the bottom lines of all producers involved.
Our bad apple sees that they have a significant number of animals which are showing clinical signs of BRD. But, because they know what those cattle are worth, even sick, they refuse to treat the cattle with antibiotics to clear the animal’s lungs and rescue them from a long, painful recovery or death. Those cattle are worth more per pound sick and untreated and suffering than they are healthy and eating and happy. Now, I am not a smart man. But I know there is a problem with that equation. the other 9,999 producers are taking the financial hit, treating the ill animals and removing them from a meaningless program, but one that pays premiums nonetheless. Our bad apple allows their cattle to suffer, die and be in extended periods of sickness simply to make themselves a bit more money. That is wrong. That is despicable. That is what companies like Subway and A&W are setting themselves up for with their premiums on antibiotic free.
Again, it might only be 1 in 10,000 producers who sees the dollar signs instead of the animals, but it only takes one incident for an animal activist group to paint the whole industry with a bloody, animal abusing brush. The actions of Subway and A&W do nothing to solve any sort of real threat to human health or product safety or quality. Instead, they open the doors to potential animal abuse. For an opinion from the American Association of Humane Societies, click here.