Alternatives to Antibiotics in Animals: Looking to Africa for Answers

By Alex Tung

A recent article and editorial in the New York Times addressed the dire consequences of antibiotic overuse in farm animals on humans, and what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to do about it.

(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Previously introduced legislation, most notably the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009, have attempted to regulate antibiotic use in the agricultural industry. This week, the FDA has finally issued a “draft guidance” on the use of drugs in agriculture, especially antibiotics that have significance in treating human infections. The use of such drugs, the agency says, should be “limited to treating or controlling infectious disease in animals or to prevent infections before an outbreak occurs.”

Industry representatives such as the National Pork Producers Council continue to voice their opposition, citing the high costs they project from having to review “previously approved animal health products.” These same voices have been supporting the spread of the factory-farming model in the United States, building the perception that it is necessary to sub-therapeutically dose animals with antibiotics to keep them disease-free or to make them produce more meat or milk.

Nourishing the Planet co-director Danielle Nierenberg’s visit to pastoralist communities in Kenya reminds us of the importance of preserving traditional, hardier breeds that suit local conditions and allow natural resistance to pest and diseases. Maybe it is time to look to these communities and learn from their solutions.

To learn more about sustainable livestock-rearing practices, read: Livestock Keepers’ Rights: Conserving Endangered Animal Genetic Resources in Kenya, Creating a Roadmap for Environmentally Sustainable Meat Production and Consumption, Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve Communities and Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry.

Alex Tung is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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