Curbing CAFO antibiotic use

This is where Carey sends his cows that are either sick or injured.

This is where Carey sends his cows that are either sick or injured.

Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO, create countless pounds of manure daily.

This refuse, or rather what’s in it, is becoming a hotly contested issue between scientists and CAFO supporters.

Dr. Murray Borello is a scientist out of Alma College. He’s done multiple studies attempting to examine the impact of CAFO’s in Gratiot County.

He said there’s one issue in particular that’s getting a lot of attention from his colleagues.

“One issue that the scientific community is very concerned about, probably most more than any study, is the prevalence and proliferation of antibiotic bacteria that are found in these waterways that are associated with uhm, runoff of manures that come from these CAFO’s.”

Borello said he has found strains of e-coli and other bacteria that exhibit strong resistance to medicine’s that should kill them.

In fact, Borello said some strains are too resistant.

“One of the things that we’ve been doing too is you take the samples of the water and you isolate the e-coli and you see at what level does the bacteria die. In many cases we didn’t see much death at all, basically they were immune.”

Borello said this is a serious health risk for humans. He said antibiotics are our main defense against harmful germs. If they fail, he said, we could be in serious trouble.

How exactly are the genes getting into our water system though? Borello explained when he said,

“The livestock are fed antibiotics, it’s in their feed. In fact a majority of the antibiotics that are sold in this country go to livestock operations. So that comes out in their waste, and that goes out into the environment.”

Borello says according to the FDA, antibiotic sales to farmers increased more than 15% from 2009-2012.

Chute used to stabilize cattle for check-ups

Chute used to stabilize cattle for check-ups

However, the easy use of antibiotics on livestock is a practice that’s supposed to be changing.

According to Laura Campbell, manager of the Agricultural Ecology Department at the Michigan Farm Bureau, the FDA is trying to curb antibiotic use.

“In previous years it was a pretty common practice to administer what they call sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics to animals. Uh, as of 2013 the FDA has issued a new set of rules. Animal or livestock producers cannot use medically important uh, antibiotics, without veterinary oversight.”

Campbell said these new regulations urge farmers to use antibiotics to treat individual animals, not bulk pens. Right now the rules are recommendations, the FDA says it will begin enforcing the new standards next year.

Matt Carey is an owner and farmer at Carey’s Pioneer Farms. They’re a 2,000 cow beef CAFO in Alma.

Matt Carey standing next to his environmental certification

Matt Carey standing next to his environmental certification

Carey said he’s never mass medicated his cattle.

“I think my kids get more antibiotics from a cold, ya know, when they’re sick, than these animals do. Ya know, ya try a couple things, if it helps ‘em out great, but you don’t keep em on it. We don’t do any mass medication. When they first come in, it’s just like a group of people. Ya bring em in, a little stress, sometimes they get sick a little bit.”

Carey said mass medication just isn’t financially feasible.

“This stuff is expensive, it’s expensive in human health and it’s expensive in the livestock industry. You can’t afford to use an antibiotic unless you need it. Ya know, it could be $25 to treat one steer one time and your profit wasn’t much more than that to begin with. So when ya get down to your net profit if you had to treat it twice you lost money.”

Although Carey refrains from using antibiotics the same can’t be said of all CAFO’s.

Tyson, one of the largest chicken producers in the U.S, admits to using human antibiotics in their animals. Recently though, they announced they’d stop widespread human antibiotic use by 2017.

Whether or not reduced antibiotic use will take hold remains to be seen. The FDA admits that once it begins enforcing the new rules in 2016, implementation will likely be slow-going due to the number of farms.