The Organic Center Report Says Organic Livestock Can Combat Antibiotic Resistance

From by Lani Furbank
The Organic Center Report Says Organic Livestock Can Combat Antibiotic Resistance

The Organic Center recently released a review paper explaining how organic agricultural practices can reduce a consumer’s exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The primary assertion is that organic meat is “the best choice” consumers can make to protect against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The report explains that the routine­ use of antibiotics in conventional agriculture has been cited as a contributor to antibiotic resistance, which was called an emerging global crisis by the World Health Organization. In the United States, at least 23,000 people die annually due to infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The paper examines the way resistance develops in bacteria and the role that modern-day agricultural practices play in the problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are commonly used in raising conventional livestock, both to treat sick animals and to prevent infection or promote growth in healthy animals.

The Organic Center’s report also looks at the risks to human health. These include transmission through environmental contamination, transmission to farm workers and surrounding communities, and transmission through food. The paper points out that cooking does not always protect consumers from antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the risk of cross-contamination or eating rare steaks.

The paper posits that organic livestock production is part of the solution. “Organic livestock production, which prohibits the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or prophylactic purposes, provides a compelling example of successful, profitable operations and demonstrates the ability of livestock farms to operate without substantial antibiotic use. Organic provides a model for how agriculture can contribute to a solution,” says Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center, who is a co-author of the review with her colleague, Dr. Tracy Misiewicz.

The authors cite studies demonstrating that organic farms and have fewer antibiotic-resistant microbes than conventional operations. For example, a study of farms in Denmark found that 80 percent of chickens sampled on conventional farms tested positive for vancomycin-resistant bacteria, while no resistant bacteria were found in organic chickens. In addition, a study of chicken in Maryland grocery stores found that all Salmonella bacteria from conventional chicken were resistant to antibiotics, while almost none of the bacteria from organic chicken were resistant.

According to the report, organic agriculture eliminates excessive antibiotic use without harming the productivity or profitability of the livestock industry, while improving consumer safety and health.

Read the full report here.