Monday, July 29, 2013

Panera Bread, Antibiotics in feed, and #PluckEZchicken

I have recently been following the debate about the Panera Bread online advertising campaign that suggests that farmers feed antibiotics to their livestock because they are too lazy to care for them. This debate can be seen at the Blog "The Adventures of Dairy Carrie"  and a follow up called #pluckEZchicken . In the whole debate there seems to be a missing piece of information, "What antibiotics are fed to livestock?"

While the Panera Bread advertisement seems directed more at the chicken producer, I feel it reflects poorly on most producers of livestock. Since I raise pigs on a large scale in confinement barns, I will speak only to what I know and don't know or do and don't do as the case may be.

I purchase baby pigs from the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure (technically it is the company named Legacy Farms that is the operating partner) when they are weaned. These pigs arrive at my barn weighing about 14# and are about 21 days old.

pigs are housed in these pens for easy observation for 6-8 weeks

As I understand it, biologically, the piglets are just starting to produce their own immunities and to lose those of their mother at this age. In other words they are weaned just before they start to pick up mother's adult diseases and their immune system has just started to respond independently. Obviously, they are at risk of getting sick during this time since it takes about 3 weeks (21 days) for an immune response to develop. It is during this time that I feed antibiotics in their feed.

In some ways, I liken it to when I went to college and was first exposed to all the diseases that the urban students were already immune to. I was sick for a month!

even authorized personnel shower in and change clothes on entry

I go to great lengths to present the pigs with as clean an environment as possible during this period. The pens they enter have been cleaned and disinfected and entry to the facility is restricted. This includes people but also any other living things that might be a carrier of disease like raccoons, possum, birds, etc.. The tough ones are airborne viruses. To this end my barns are located in remote locations to create natural buffers to airborne illnesses.

Feed arrives from a commercial mill in a semi truck and is placed in storage bins. Each feed and delivery has a unique information tag/invoice that is delivered with it so I can know what was delivered.

this is the largest image I have been able to make, my son scribbled on the weight ticket

These tags are kept on file for two years as part of my compliance with the National Pork Board's Pork Quality Assurance Plus program so that if a question is raised about what was fed, I have an auditable trail for an answer.

These tags show that from 6/28/13 to 7/24/13 this group of 2100 pigs was fed an antibiotic call Carbadox at a rate of 50 grams per ton of feed. The label further says that this medication must not be fed within 42 days of slaughter. It may also be seen that this amounted to slightly less than 31 tons of feed.

So with these facts let's think a minute.

My wife's 2# bag of powdered sugar weighs 907 grams.

my cheapo scale is off a little

I just fed 1550 grams of antibiotic to my pigs mixed in with 31 tons of corn, soybeans and minerals (also on the tag above) over about 30 days, to fight off diseases that almost certainly were present, while the pigs immune response developed naturally. The first pigs won't go to market for 5-6 months (180 days) so the 42 day slaughter restriction is met with ALOT of room to spare.

Since these are the only antibiotics these pigs will ever see, unless there is a disease that breaks out, it seems unreasonable to me to say they are stuffed full of antibiotics. The Panera Bread add shows the antibiotics holding up the barn roof. That seems a little bit of an over statement to me.

So the next obvious question is, "What is Carbadox and how safe is it?"

The answer, of course, is way beyond my technical knowledge. I am a pig farmer with a college degree in Agricultural Business from 1983. You are a consumer that expects food to be healthy and wholesome for you. Period. Full stop. That is why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these drugs requiring enormous amounts of testing and research before they are approved for production.

I just listened to a presentation of this process at a meeting of the National Pork Board's Animal Welfare Committee by Dr. Steve Sundlof (the former head of the agency tasked with this job). His presentation for laymen took an hour. I do remember that the testing requirements are for things like effectiveness, safety to the pig and ultimate consumer, safety to handlers, safety to the environment, and length of time needed for the drug to dissipate from the animals body prior to slaughter (slaughter hold times), along with other things. These all get condensed into the feed tag pictured above.

If you are concerned/interested about what is in the food you are putting in your mouth, I applaud you. I hope this discussion gives you a little more perspective about what goes on at my farm (I am not unlike a lot of farms). I hope you can begin to appreciate the time, attention, and great lengths that farmers are going to so that the food you put in your mouth is absolutely healthy for you and in fact has never been unhealthy itself.

After all, the road to healthy food is not easy but it sure is tasty.

P.S. Diana Pritchard comments on the social media aspect of this dust up in her Swine Web editorial.
P.S.S. here is a person with more expertise discussing antibiotics/residues Mom at the Meat Counter


  1. A great explanation of what goes on at livestock farms. The pictures tell the story! Thank you for this!

  2. I really like the bio security, it is really important to keep the animals healthy and safe.