Veterinarian explains destigmatizing modern ag begins with understanding protocols
“As a vet, we take an oath to protect animal health, prevent animal suffering and promote public health,” says Leah Dorman, DVM and director of Food Integrity and Consumer Engagement at Phibro Animal Health.
Aside from her job at Phibro, Dorman is a mom and farmer herself.
“Many groups are trying to ban what they believe to be factory farming,” says Dorman. “I like to call this the ‘double f-bomb’ because factory and farm just don’t go together.”
Positive or negative?
She explains the negative feelings surrounding large-scale farming operations are highly confusing considering the many advantages of larger operations.
“When we have a big farm, it’s likely there is an entire team dedicated to animal care,” Dorman notes.
For example, most large-scale hog farms employee someone specifically to care for piglets. Because this person has a specialized job, they are better able to recognize and address any issues with piglets.
“It’s not that small-scale farmers are unable to address health issues, but oftentimes, small operations force everyone to take on multiple jobs they may not be specialized in,” Dorman explains. “Specialized positions are a major advantage of larger operations.”
Utilization of advanced technology is another major advantage of large operations.
“Climate controlled barns are becoming increasingly popular and are crucial to success in sensitive species such as hogs and chickens,” Dorman explains. “With modern technology, farmers can be notified via their cell phone of any major changes in climate and adjust accordingly before disaster strikes.”
Another public concern related to the agriculture industry comes in the use of antibiotics.
“Even when animals do receive antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, there are no antibiotics in the food we consume,” Dorman stresses.
She explains there are numerous safeguards to ensure there are no antibiotics in the food supply. These safeguards begin when the medication is tested and approved for animal use.
“Many of these safeguards are related to withdrawal times,” Dorman says. “These can range between zero and 30 days depending on the nature of the medication.”
“Many packing companies and USDA conduct testing to ensure farmers are following withdrawal protocols,” Dorman comments.
“Antibiotics are just one of many tools in the box we can use to treat sick animals,” says Dorman. “As veterinarians, we should try to focus on preventatives such as vaccines and living conditions to minimize antibiotic need.”
“There will always be times when antibiotics are needed,” she notes. “As a vet, it’s the ethical thing to do if the infection is treatable with an antibiotic.”
She notes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes there are instances when antibiotics are absolutely necessary in animals.
“Animals get sick, just like we do, even when we take the utmost care of their health, it happens,” Dorman stresses.
She explains creating antibiotic resistance is a major public health concern and that is why there are so many rules and safeguards surrounding antibiotic use in food animals.
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes a list of antibiotics with human and animal overlap,” Dorman explains. “These specific antibiotics require oversight of a veterinarian in the form of prescriptions or feed directives.”
“This is where preventative measures and innovation really come into play,” Dorman says. “Utilizing and developing vaccines and nutrition specialty products can assist in minimizing antibiotic use.”
She explains no matter what measures scientists and agriculturalists take, there needs to be public understanding.
“We can’t do things behind closed doors and expect the public to just go with it,” she says. “Especially with controversial practices such as gene editing.”
“The approach we need to take with this is to ensure the public we are acting in a way to minimize animal suffering and ultimately the need for antibiotics by making these animals resistant to the disease in the first place,” Dorman explains. “But this is something that cannot be done behind closed doors. There must be public understanding of why these practices were used.”
“Another issue we have to address is food labeling,” Dorman stresses.
“Food labels are absolutely vital and should be included for nutrition and allergen information,” she says. “But the emergence of absence labels such as non-GMO or antibiotic-free are doing nothing but causing confusion.”
She explains most of these absence labels are nothing but a simple marketing gimmick. Added hormones and trace antibiotics have never been allowed in meat to begin with and labels promoting grass-fed proteins have little to do with nutrition and more to do with production.
“If someone chooses to purchase grass-fed over grain-fed beef because they prefer to do so, that’s fine,” she says. “But including an absence label on something that has never had said substance in the first place is gimmick marketing.”
She notes she recently came across water labeled as gluten-free and was shocked considering water has never contained gluten in the first place.”
“We don’t need to pay extra for a label saying a meat is antibiotic-free or water is gluten-free because it always has been,” Dorman says.
Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.