Will All Livestock Production Be Antibiotic Free?

July 4, 2015 10:27 AM
Will All Livestock Production Be Antibiotic Free?

Consumer perceptions, retailers and legislation are changing the way livestock are raised in the U.S.

Dining chains like Panera Bread and Chipotle have been marketing antibiotic free meats for some time; McDonald’s will soon join their ranks. Meat packer Tyson Foods is moving towards going antibiotic free. The Veterinary Feed Directive will begin implementation in October and full take effect at the end of 2016 when feed grade medications must be labeled. To say the least, things have been evolving at a rapid pace for the livestock industry.

At Alltech’s Rebelation meeting, luncheon speakers discussed the possibilities of going antibiotic-free and what livestock producers are currently doing.

For pork producer and processor Clemens Family Corporation, the requests keep coming in every day from food service and retailers wanting hogs raised without antibiotics, says company CEO Doug Clemens.

Approximately 15,000 pigs are processed per week by Clemens Family Corporation, and a third of those hogs qualify in the "never-ever"program. "Never-ever" means the animal has never had growth promotants, been fed byproducts or treated with antibiotics.

"From our perspective, we have not taken the pathway of giving consumers what they want," Clemens says. The pathway that has been taken looks at doing things differently than in the past, while keeping animal welfare at the top of mind.

“We’ve been able to achieve that by constantly learning, seeking questions and doing what we think is best for the animal,” Clemens adds.

It is absolutely possible to go antibioti- free, says Steve Collett, clinical associate professor at University of Georgia’s Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center.

He notes a majority of the turkey industry has managed to go completely drug-free in the past decade, meaning no antibiotics, growth promotors, coccidiostats, chemicals or treatment. Raising broiler chickens is a larger and faster moving industry, so it can be difficult to overcome the lack of coccidiostats.

“In terms of the future I think it is clear millennials are going to take us down the track of removing antibiotics,” Collett says.

Fieldale Farms, a chicken supplier for Chipotle and Panera Bread has been raising birds antibiotic-free for nearly 18 years.

Occasionally, a flock must be treated, says Dave Wicker, vice president of live operations at Fieldale Farms.  He relates during the first few years switching to antibiotic-free you’ll treat a lot of animals, but as you learn there will be less need for treatment.

“I would say if you want to do antibiotic-free production you better have extremely good feed quality and consistency,” Wicker says. “Going antibiotic-free is doable; it is not easy. The biggest thing is changing your mindset.”

Raising cattle without antibiotics might be the most challenging of the major livestock species. Poultry and pork production utilize more vertical integration, so all health protocols are easier to manage because the livestock don’t change hands as often or travel as far.

In beef production, a calf could be born at a ranch in Florida, backgrounded in Kentucky and sent to Oklahoma to winter on wheat. Then it could end up at a feedyard in Texas where it might be neighbors with Holstein steers from California and spayed heifers from Mexico.

John Butler serves as CEO for Beef Marketing Group which has 19 member feedlots in Kansas and Nebraska. So far the group has not gone antibiotic-free.

“It will be very difficult for the beef industry,” Butler says of going antibiotic-free. “We’re not ignoring the signals that we’re getting from many of the end users we work with.”

Each week 13,000 cattle are sent to a single packer by the Beef Marketing Group. Some of the retailers purchasing beef from the packer include McDonald’s, Walmart and Whole Foods.

“What we try to do is identify what we can do on the live side to address those needs,” Butler says. “We’ve been looking aggressively at alternatives because we know it [antibiotic-free] is coming.”

Back to news




Spell Check

Suzanne Buell
Eastford, CT
7/7/2015 06:51 PM

  I'm not sure I understand this "antibiotic-free". Do they mean feed additives or treating sick animals? Does this mean any sick animal should be shot instead of receive medication for any ailment? Would those animals have to be kept separate and go thru a different channel in the food chain? I'd like to meet someone who has never been sick in their life. It happens with the best of care.

7/8/2015 10:12 AM

  I have been in the feed Business for 46 years. I know that some of these feed additives have been used for more than 50 years. There have been lots of trials by very intelligent people to make feed safe and effective for Animals and Human consumption. Folks are living longer and having better health in their later years. Kids have better health, are Maturing quicker and Athletics are breaking more and more records every year because of good Health. Why do we want to throw all that away? When you do away with the use of antibiotics you will have greater Mortality rate of the Animals and that product will have more Bacteria in it for your body to fight off. For me and my Family give me safe food that have been raised by proven methods.

St Henry, OH
7/8/2015 06:04 AM

  How can you verify? If you treat a sick animal do you have to keep it away from all others for the rest of its life? What percent of people have never been sick?


Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by QTInfo.com
Brought to you by Beyer