Antibiotic-free study shows more bacteria in some naturally raised animals

Antibiotic-free study shows more bacteria in some naturally raised animals

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008 8:42 pm
By: Pettus L. Read

By PETTUS L. READ The years I spent growing up on a farm in rural Tennessee was a time prior to antibiotic treatment of farm animals, as well as a time of very little other protection for growing healthy livestock. Our pigs, chickens and some of the other livestock on our farm were raised in a farming atmosphere of what is called today “free range” and organic. The pigs rooted around in a woods lot out back of the barn and food scraps from the kitchen often was a staple of their diet. Chickens were kept in a fenced-in lot near the garden and their only exposure to the chicken house was when they flew up in the nest to lay eggs and roost for the night. The rest of the time they were “free lot” in their roaming, which made walking to gather the eggs for us humans a little precarious as we had to really watch were we stepped, if you know what I mean. Summertime meant going barefooted for us children and having to get up the eggs caused a lot of tiptoeing to and from the henhouse. Dog fennel weeds came in very handy, but that’s another story. All the hog meat we consumed on our farm came from the pigs produced in those woods lots behind the barn and was processed right their on the farm. It never failed during the “hog-killin” days in the winter, as those involved would gather around the smokehouse to trim out the meat, that the topic of trichinellosis would come up. As a child, the word and its discussion fascinated me, as well as sent a feeling of fear inside my body just thinking you could get a worm in your insides from eating a piece of ham. Of course, that fear went away later during the winter months whenever my mother would put a piece of fried country ham on a good-sized buttermilk biscuit for breakfast. Everyone knew that the parasite was associated with undercooked pork and took precautions to prevent it from being a problem. Over the years, the pork industry has changed a lot from the days of our barn lot enterprise. Pigs remain in climate controlled and ventilated barns that have pens large enough to allow them to move around with other pigs their age and size. They are fed balanced diets along with receiving antibiotics to prevent the parasites that not only can affect their health, but the consuming public’s health as well. These animals are also removed from antibiotics for a period of time prior to being processed to allow any medicines left in their systems to go away. This practice is used to protect the consumer and the food chain. But, in the last few years, some consumers have requested that we allow our pork to be reared, once again, in open fields and become antibiotic-free with no preventative medicines given. I’ve lived that method of care and do have to say I do appreciate today’s swine production methods much more. In the agribusiness newspaper Feedstuffs, an article by Tim Lundeen reports on a recent study from Ohio State University that may cause some consumers to re-think their wants for antibiotic-free pork chops. He reports a study by the university, published in a recent issue of the journal Foodborne Pathogens & Disease, used a comparison of pigs raised in antibiotic-free and conventional pork production settings and found that the pigs raised out in fields without their antibiotic shots had higher rates of three foodborne pathogens than did the pigs raised in barns and getting regular antibiotic medicines. In the article Lundeen reports: “More than half of the pigs on antibiotic-free farms tested positive for salmonella, compared to 39 percent of conventionally raised pigs infected with the bacterial pathogen. The presence of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite was detected in 6.8 percent of antibiotic-free pigs, compared to 1.1 percent of conventionally raised pigs. Two naturally raised pigs, of the total 616 sampled, tested positive for Trichinella spiralis, a parasite considered virtually eradicated from conventional U.S. pork operations.” The article states that researchers would not recommend one method of raising pigs over another, but the study does raise some questions that may, more than likely, require more studies to be conducted in the future. When a parasite shows up that folks thought was eradicated years ago, that is one piece of history I think we do not need to repeat. Modern day practices in agriculture were developed for a reason and those reasons in most cases deal with healthier products and safer foods for the consumer. If you go back to doing what your once did, you will once again get the same results. However, there is no reason to get overly concerned. USDA recommends that as long as you cook pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. there should be no problems for us humans. Trichinellosis is something that I would like to keep as a memory of a discussion long ago. ——— Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com Published in The Messenger 6.30.08

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