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Yet More Antibiotics in Feed Lots


It’s bad enough that animals at factory farms are being dosed up with antibiotics. Now we’re learning that they’re getting a whole other source of antibiotics, too – not just the kinds that come directly from the pharmaceutical industry.

And that means that those of us who eat them are getting an extra dose, too.

As part of their factory farm diet, cows, pigs and hens are being fed a corn mash that’s the left-over grain from the production of ethanol. The companies that make the ethanol add penicillin and erythromycin to the mix to prevent bacterial outbreaks in the warm, moist, sugary conditions of the distillation.

So, when the animals at the factory farms and feed lots eat this corn mash, they’re getting an extra dose of antibiotics beyond what’s already being added to their food.

According to a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) – Bugs in the the System; How the FDA fails to regulate antibiotics in ethanol production :

Many ethanol producers routinely add antibiotics such as penicillin and erythromycin (both important for human health) and virginiamycin and tylosin (both have analogs used to treat humans) to the tanks where they mix corn mash with warm water to ferment ethanol.

Bacterial outbreaks are common in ethanol plants (the bacteria like the warm, moist conditions and the corn sugar), and can lead to yield (and therefore profit) losses. Antibiotics help keep bacterial counts low, but fuel isn’t the only product that leaves ethanol plants.

Producers also sell what is known as “distillers grains” (DGS), the nutrient-rich, leftover corn mash, to cattle, dairy, swine and poultry producers for use as a livestock feed. In 2008 the FDA found antibiotic residues in DGS samples taken from ethanol plants across the country, results that have been confirmed by subsequent studies.

Ranchers and ethanol distillers both benefit from the arrangement. The ethanol producers get to sell their waste product, and the ranchers and feed lots get an inexpensive supply of food for the animals.

According to the IATP report:

The beef industry uses 41 percent of all DGS, the dairy industry consumes 26 percent, 5 percent are fed to swine and 4 percent to poultry; 22 percent are exported for use by meat producers overseas. DGS have rapidly become a mainstay of the conventional livestock diet, replacing 914 million bushels of traditional corn feed in the 2010-11 production year.”

Not all the distillers use antibiotics. Some of them use other kinds of antimicrobials. And the ethanol industry says the amount of antibiotics that reaches the animals is very small.

But the FDA says that feeding animals distillers grain with antibiotic residues may contribute to the emergence of drug-resistant organisms that can infect humans who eat animal products.

“Given the significant increase in the use of distillers dried grains as a livestock feed ingredient, FDA has decided to explore possible options for increased regulatory oversight over the use of antimicrobials in the ethanol production process when the byproducts of this process are used for animal feed.”

Once again, your best option is to eat a plant based diet.