The topic of this month’s regular column written exclusively for Beef Central by US market analyst, Steve Kay, is particularly timely, given the recent announcement by the Australian Federal Government that it will examine antibiotics use in both human health and animal production applications.
AMERICANS’ resistance to antibiotics has become a hot health issue in recent years.
Unfortunately, the US meat and poultry industry has been ensnared in the issue as most Americans believe antibiotic use in animals is the culprit. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the industry has had little success until now in convincing people otherwise.
Fortunately, this looks set to change. A White House forum last week on antibiotic stewardship finally gave the US meat and poultry industry a great opportunity to publicise what it is already doing on stewardship.
The forum made headlines throughout the US national media. This gave the industry the chance to be a key part of the debate about antibiotic use in animals and humans.
Most of the human resistance to antibiotics has nothing to do with antibiotic use in animals, and the vast majority of antibiotics administered to animals are never used by humans. The top US disease official (Dr Tom Frieden, head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) has said the most acute problem is in hospitals and the way doctors indiscriminately prescribe antibiotics (sometimes over the phone). In fact, he has called on doctors to “stop squandering” antibiotics.
Contrary to what the public believes, the meat and poultry industry has been strengthening its stewardship of antibiotics for some years, while most of the largest poultry companies have recently announced plans to eliminate the use of all human antibiotics.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used the forum to issue a final rule that will require farmers and ranchers to get prescriptions from their veterinarians for antibiotics considered medically important to humans.
New guidelines, for veterinarians, will also prevent farmers and ranchers from using antibiotics to promote quicker growth in animals. They will only be able to use them to treat and prevent diseases.
Prior to the forum’s start, the White House announced that it is directing federal departments to begin purchasing meat and poultry raised with what they called “responsible antibiotic use.” The White House says the purchasing plan will have a five-year timeline.
While the meat industry applauded the White House’s leadership on the issue of antibiotic resistance, it expressed concerns about certain statements in the White House press release. The statement said that the “The Presidential Food Service is also committing to serving meats and poultry that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics.”
This statement is concerning for several reasons and could confuse consumers, said the North American Meat Institute.
No meat or poultry product in the US is “treated” with antibiotics. Livestock and poultry may sometimes be administered antibiotics, but strict federal withdrawal periods and careful federal residue monitoring ensure that meat and poultry derived from animals that received antibiotics are safe for consumers. Antibiotics are federally approved and regulated and can be essential in ensuring animal health and welfare, said NAMI.
NAMI also noted that hormones are never used in pork and poultry production, although they are approved for cattle. The White House can buy pork and poultry products from animals or birds raised without hormones at any local grocery store and under any brand name, it said. NAMI also noted that beef products from both hormone-treated and untreated cattle have far fewer hormones than foods like coleslaw, eggs, beer or tofu. In fact, no living organism can be “hormone free,” although that phrase is commonly and erroneously used, said NAMI.
One can see that “miss-speak” is one of the issues that bedevils the public’s understanding about antibiotics. This author spotted a “miss-speak” in an op-ed piece by Frieden in last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. Frieden wrote about companies that are working “to provide more antibiotic-free food options to consumers.” Frieden, of all people, should know this term is wrong because food has to be free of any antibiotic residues when sold. Virtually all meat is automatically “antibiotic-free” because government regulations have zero tolerance standards for such residues.
Frieden should have said “produced without the use of antibiotics.”
US June beef demand ‘atypical’
Meanwhile, June sure isn’t acting like the best beef demand month of the year, as it normally is.
Boxed beef (the cuts from grainfed cattle) prices have collapsed, forcing packers to cut production.
The culprit is weak retail beef sales before and after the big Memorial Day holiday, especially of steaks. This left packers with a lot of beef to sell last week and they began a fire sale as early as Tuesday. The Choice cutout lost US$10.34 per cwt Monday through Friday and thus had fallen US$20.94 in 12 business days since its record daily high on May 19.
That’s one of the biggest declines in years. Packers’ only recourse was to reduce production. Last week’s kill was 550,000 head, versus 616,467 head the same week last year. Supplies of market-ready grainfed cattle are tight, but weak retail beef demand is the reason US packers are operating at their lowest levels in a long time.