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Weight Promoting Alternative to Antibiotics a Much-Needed Solution for Meat Producers

By   /  September 12, 2016  /  5 Comments

An FDA directive that goes into effect January 1, 2017 will prohibit cattle feeders in the U.S. from adding low-grade doses of antibiotics as a regular part of their feeding program. Here’s why antibiotics have been fed in the past and thoughts about what the future holds.

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Whenever I talk to anyone who works in the animal health industry who says that they are working on an antibiotic alternative, one of the first questions I ask is: what does it do on the production side?

20kg_ProMonensin_Premix_20The use of antibiotics in the livestock industry is well-known. However, the reason behind the large volume of antibiotics consumed by the industry is not talked about. Over the last several decades, producers have used antibiotics, such as Monensin, for growth promotion in livestock. Antibiotics have been added to animal feed in subclinical doses, to promote weight gain in livestock. By sub-clinical I mean that the doses given are not effective in managing disease. This practice was primarily used in cattle, but also in hog and poultry. As the global population has skyrocketed, and people’s food tastes have changed, the demand for meat has risen as well. This was economical for producers as it meant they could yield more meat, at a lower cost, because these antibiotics were cheap and easy to manufacture as opposed to more costly feed inputs or longer times to market.

As we learned more about the effects of antibiotics, especially within the area of antibiotic resistance and how the use of antibiotics in the animals that we eat can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans, there has been a call for stopping the use of antibiotics in livestock. In 2014, Health Canada announced that they were restricting the use of antibiotics in livestock to specific treatment of disease[1]. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. passed similar regulation[2]. Back in October, California Governor Jerry Brown passed a law banning the use of antibiotics in animals for weight gain promotion, as well as banning the use of all antibiotics found in human medicine, by 2018[3].

Consumers have the option to buy meat at the grocery store, all with different claims as to whether the animals were given any antibiotics in their lifetime[4]. However, some of these labels may only mean that the livestock from which their meat came from did not receive sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics for growth promotion. They could very well have been treated with antibiotics had they been exposed to disease and bacterial infections at some point though, or possibly when they were born to help support their immature immune systems (to supplement the passive immunity normally acquired through mothers milk).

Initial studies in the 1960s had shown that the antibiotics made the animals gain weight, on average, by 6 per cent. This is a significant margin for producers, and over the years they have come to rely on it as a foundational piece for their production economics. Now that this use is starting to be phased out, producers are now faced with a challenge: their production economics will change, unless they find a suitable alternative for growth promotion. This new alternative cannot be antibiotics, and therefore has to be an entirely new class of growth promoters. So far, no one has succeeded at filling the gap.

Possible technologies that have come forward have been anything from probiotics, to using bacterial cultures, to using a wide variety of natural extracts, substances, to using genetically modified bacteria, to chemical compounds – the broad spectrum of available molecules. This is an industry pain point that presents a tremendous opportunity for inventors and researchers.

Growth promotion is not usually talked about on the consumer side, but for producers, this is a major concern, and therein lies a huge market for potential alternatives. This is also problematic for animal health technology companies and antibiotic manufacturers that will lose major revenue when the antibiotics are phased out.

explanation2Most of all, this presents a big opportunity to appeal to consumers. As the general public is making more conscious food choices, they are turning more towards meat that is raised in better conditions, with labels such as grass-fed, or free-range, for example. Currently, the only meat that is available on the market that is guaranteed not to have had any exposure to antibiotics are those that are labelled organic, which can come at a premium price. If this new growth promoter alternative also happens to be all-natural, hormone-free, non-GMO, or a different type of product that is perfectly healthy for the consumer to eat, this could also be a much more appealing solution to the consumer and therefore make for a better bottom-line for producers.

Many producers have already started phasing out the use of antibiotics as growth promoters on their own, but the clock is ticking for a new solution to present itself.

[1] http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/health-canada-restricts-use-of-growth-promoting-antibiotics-in-livestock-1.1910924

[2] http://news.health.com/2015/06/03/fda-puts-antibiotics-for-food-animals-under-vets-supervision/

[3] http://modernfarmer.com/2015/10/california-antibiotic-livestock-regulations/

[4] http://www.today.com/health/your-meat-antibiotic-free-how-read-labels-t57321

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  • Published: 3 months ago on September 12, 2016
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  • Last Modified: September 12, 2016 @ 11:58 am
  • Filed Under: Money Matters

About the author

Jim Hardin is Senior Investment Manager at AVAC Ltd., the parent company of Verdex Capital. Jim joined AVAC as an investment manager in 2006. Prior to joining AVAC, Jim spent over 13 years in academics and the biotechnology industry. Jim has a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and a Ph.D. in Gastrointestinal Physiology, and brings a broad background in life sciences to the organization. He has published over 100 patents, book chapters, full articles, and abstracts in the area of gastrointestinal physiology and animal models of infectious disease, thus lending an extensive background in life sciences. Jim’s focus areas include biotechnology, medical devices, and agricultural technology.

5 Comments

  1. Geralyn Devereaux says:

    This has been percolating in my mind during my evening chores! ~~ Antibiotics have been added to animal feed in subclinical doses, to promote weight gain in livestock. By sub-clinical I mean that the doses given are not effective in managing disease. This practice was primarily used in cattle, but also in hog and poultry.~~ But what if those subclinical doses that we eat when partaking of antibiotic fed animal flesh are also making US fatten up? Just a thought! aieee!!

  2. Jess Jackson Jr says:

    I remember a conversation with a researcher at Utah State University who told my group that feeding a high tannin diet to hogs (acorns) prolonged shelf life of the meat by two weeks. Since tannins are anti-bacterial there may an option for these natural compounds or others. Don’t know if it affects taste etc.

    • Geralyn Devereaux says:

      After a hospital visit for a bad West Nile infection I suddenly started to get violently ill when ever I ate meat. I previously was following a low carb/ higher protein diet including all the eggs, pork and beef I desired. As I learned a whole new way of eating I researched and found that the antibiotic I was given in hospital (CIPRO) is related to the family of antibiotic growth stimulators commonly found in grocery store meats. They both contain fluoroquinolones. My gut health was destroyed and lots of tendons and connective tissue was affected for some years. I came across a rant page on the fluoroquinolone issue and thought these poor folks sounded NUTS until I read one sentence “If you have had this issue you may also find you can no longer eat meat, milk or eggs from the grocery store.” WHA??!! That was why I was doing the research! Could my relief be as simple as paying the higher price for organic antibiotic-free meats/eggs? Turns out it was! Since my pain and distress would start about an hour or so after eating I finally saw that residual SOMETHING in the meat/eggs/milk was causing my gut immune reaction and meat/eggs/milk w/o antibiotics did not cause it. Years have gone by and now I can dabble in the occasional restaurant fare w/o distress but at home we ONLY partake of organic antibiotic free meats, milks and eggs. It is true ORGANIC has less meaning these days but is still useful, better now are holistic grass farmers and pastured animals. MHO based on real life events…

  3. Tim says:

    There are some potentially misleading statements in this article. While it is technically true that monensin is an antibiotic, it’s use is unaffected by the FDA’s rule. Here is a link that explains ionophore use in cattle. https://www.faithfamilyandbeef.com/2015/11/5-things-you-should-know-about-ionophores.html
    I also take exception to the statement that grass-fed or free-range cattle are raised in better conditions than conventionally raised beef. Also, there are multiple beef programs that guarantee that their cattle have never had any antibiotics that are not organic. Just my two cents…

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