On December 23, 2011 the Food and Drug Administration stopped it’s 34-year attempt to withdraw its previous approval of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed in spite of long standing opinions from The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, The European Union and other major organizations stating that the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in animal feed and water is negatively impacting human health.
Eighty percent of all antibiotics (including many others besides penicillin and tetracycline that are also used to treat disease in humans) produced in this country are fed to animals (including fish-farmed fish) and 90% of those antibiotics are excreted in the form of urine and manure. It is estimated that one billion tons of manure are produced per year and that land application of it is the dominating pathway for releasing antibiotics into the terrestrial environment.
These antibiotics (and parasiticides, pesticides and hormones) are given to animals to inhibit (not to cure) subclinical infections, and allow less feed to cause more growth faster. We and our doctors are reluctant to use antibiotics to limit the resistance of bacteria to them but the incidence of drug resistant disease is increasing as are foodborne illnesses that are becoming resistant to drugs. However, there are antibiotics in the soil and water that we have no control over.
In 2005 a University of Minnesota study proved that food plants (corn, potatoes, etc.) absorb antibiotics from soil fertilized with manure from animals that ingested them in their food. This does not include any antibiotics in our water system from runoff.
As I researched this, I discovered that this is a huge topic involving health, food, politics and money. It is directly related to the way we grow animals for food, the majority of them being grown in huge feed situations.
There have been successful bans in the EU but there has been no movement in this country in spite of attempts from several governmental departments and other non-governmental areas. At present, however, there is a bill sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-28) to limit the use of certain classes of antibiotics in animals. (H.R. 965) Even if passed, this bill will not wholly solve the problem.
How does this apply to gardening? Well, as always, I suggest that we all inform ourselves as much as possible. There is so much information on the Internet about these topics (and it does involve many topics) that it is easy to become lost. Here is how I have chosen to act: I use no manure or composted manure in the garden. I use no fertilizer with any animal product in the garden. When I find a farm that raises animals with no antibiotics, pesticides, hormones etc., then I will use their manure products. I think this is important not only in vegetable gardens but also in all parts of the landscape. There is evidence that antimicrobials in manure disrupt the soil flora and fauna. I do not want to put any of these kinds of chemicals into the soil where it is available to the humans and other animals on the property.
In the meantime, I use worm castings, available locally, shredded leaves and plant residue, lime where appropriate, soil microbe inoculants and continue the search for soil building techniques that do not involve animal products.
For gardening discussion call Jeanelle Myers at 631-434-5067.