Humans have an odd tendency to form opinions, often times with not enough information and little to no evidence to support their beliefs. That is what I have unfortunately done with this Monroe project. When selecting the topic of “Antibiotic Use in Agricultural Livestock,” I already had a semi-formed opinion on the subject before I had even read a single article! A research sin! Fortunately I am beginning to reach a more educated, well-informed opinion that is still shifting and bending with each new piece of information. Going into this project my conclusions were black and white. Giving cows antibiotics to make them fat is bad. Just about the roughest conclusion anyone could make. My research is proving (as any research should) that the issue is far from that simple of an idea. The biggest realization that I have come to so far is that agriculture is a business. It follows the rules of economics. From the farmer’s perspective, it is in his best interest to make the product, meat, milk or eggs for example, at the lowest possible cost. Antibiotics are proven to lower the costs and increase the profits of meat producers. To demonstrate this economic point, imagine a theoretical herd of dairy cows. The cows are in direct contact with each other, sharing food and water, waste, and the air. The farmer observes Cow 1 has decreased milk production and is persistently coughing. A vet consultation reveals Cow 1 has a bacterial infection. His entire herd is now at risk of become sick, having lower milk outputs, causing possible miscarriages of future calves, and risking his own livelihood. It is in his best interest to put ALL his cows on a low dose of antibiotics, even if they show no signs of illness, to protect them from acquiring the infection of Cow 1 in the first place. The one time cost of the drugs would prevent other cows from falling ill and suffering, reduce the risk of losing calves, keep milk production high, and would be far lower than the theoretical costs if more cows fell ill. It was the economic, and frankly ethical choice to keep his cows healthy. This is where the question of antibiotic use in agriculture becomes complicated. Clearly, farmers have incentives to give their animals antibiotics, whether for treatment of illness, prevention of illness, and/or to keep production high. On the other hand, public health officials have concerns over the human health costs of such antibiotic use. What is the impact on humans? Is there a significant enough threat of resistance spillover between livestock and humans that changes should be made? Or is the animal resistance reservoir negligible? These are just some of the questions I hope to find answers to as I continue with my research. I just have to remember the answers are never black and white.
I am conducting a comprehensive analysis of current literature on the use of antibiotics and hormones in agricultural livestock in order to understand the effects that antibiotics and hormones have on the consumers of meat products in order to evaluate current United States’ legislation and restriction on the practice as well as if changes should be made to policies. It would also include a comparison of current United States’ legislation and regulations to that of the European Union, which has banned the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock for the purpose of growth. I am looking forward to conduct this research project because it combines my academic interests of epidemiology and public health as well as exploring the area of public policy. I was encouraged to pursue this project after taking “Emerging Diseases” with Dr. Beverly Sher during the Fall semester. I hope that upon completing this project I will have developed an understanding of how antibiotic and hormone use in livestock is affecting the United States’ population mainly from a public health perspective.