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How Do We Care for Livestock without Antibiotics, Anyway?

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With all our fears and concerns over the risks associated with the excessive misuse of antibiotics in livestock feed, we often forget to discuss the alternative options in treating animal illnesses. Even in organic situations, diseases and illnesses can spread. What should organic farmers use to treat sick animals in those cases?

As a vegan, I can tell you the short answer is to stop raising animals en masse in the first place. But, I'm a realist, and I'd much rather see people I love eat healthy, organically raised animals than those polluted and tortured in concentrated animal feed operations fed unnatural genetically modified antibiotic-laced diets. It's unspeakable to call anything (or anyone!) coming out of a situation like that, "food." And while not all vegans will agree, creating a healthy agricultural system is an important step in creating a more ethical one, too. I have to have hope, anyway.

That's why this New York Times article caught my eye. Stephanie Strom profiles Scott Sechler of Belle and Evans Farms in Pennsylvania, which has been using oregano oil and cinnamon in its chickens' feed for the last three years: "Off and on over the last three years or so, his chickens have been eating a specially milled diet laced with oregano oil and a touch of cinnamon. Mr. Sechler swears by the concoction as a way to fight off bacterial diseases that plague meat and poultry producers without resorting to antibiotics, which some experts say can be detrimental to the humans who eat the meat. Products at Bell & Evans, based in this town about 30 miles east of Harrisburg, have long been free of antibiotics, contributing to the company’s financial success as consumers have demanded purer foods. "

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From the Organic Authority Files

Nearly 80 percent of all the antibiotics in the U.S. currently are routed to animal feed. They are used not only treat infections, but to prevent them from occurring, and one of the more economical uses: they help animals pack on weight faster than without the use of antibiotics. The excessive use of antibiotics in animal products has caused quite a bit of concern, notably the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and human health risks, including obesity.

Sechler points out that alternatives to antibiotics are not enough—and you certainly can't use it as a substitute for healthy preventative care. Sechler suggests maintaining high sanitation standards, good ventilation and light and highly nutritious feed.

The Pig Site recommends using seaweed with clay to bind to fungus common in animal feed, which would decrease the risk of contamination. Skyline Farm recommends garlic. Organic Valley says its veterinarians use a combination of tincutres, homeopathy, essential oils, botanicals and vitamins to treat illnesses before turning to antibiotics as a last resort. However, once an animal has been given an antibiotic, it's no longer considered organic. But, like Sechler, Organic Valley, which is one of the nation's largest producer of organic milk all from small family-run farms, says the best treatment is prevention. According to their website, "Organic agriculture focuses on health maintenance and disease prevention by emphasizing proper nutrition and sanitation, and reducing animal stress. Close management, and preventative and holistic animal health maintenance are key."

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: cod_gabriel

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