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Antibiotics in Animal Feed Endangers our Health

The Realities of Pig Farming


One of the greatest health hazards facing the world today is the looming prospect of a world without effective antibiotics. We rely on them to nurse us back to health in a variety of situations where, in pre-antibiotic times, infections formerly endangered and killed millions of people.

The usefulness of antibiotics is now facing a critical challenge. Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, warned in 2011 that "in the absence of urgent corrective and protective actions, the world is heading toward a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated . . ."


How did it come about that this critical medical resource is endangered? It primarily results from the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed. Low doses of antibiotics are routinely put in the feed of healthy animals - not just the sick ones who need medical care - and then people eat those animals and thereby ingest the antibiotics that the animals have consumed. This in turn is rapidly producing antibiotic resistant bacteria. I wonder if those of us who eat meat are aware that right now our bodies are full of antibiotics that we didn't intend to be there?

Given this looming crisis, it is natural to ask why the producers of livestock routinely use antibiotics in feed? The first reason is for growth. The second reason is to combat diseases that would otherwise be rampant in the overcrowded and unhealthy conditions that exist in many factory farms. If you've ever seen battery cages you will never forget the huge buildings holding thousands of cages stacked in rows with hens packed inside of them having barely enough room to turn around. These are ideal conditions for spreading infection and disease.

Instead of the obvious and humane response of providing better living conditions for the animals, agribusiness responds to these conditions by the routine use of antibiotics and thereby endangers human health. There is considerable public concern over this issue. A Consumer Reports Poll in 2012 found the following,

"Eighty-six percent of consumers polled indicated that meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local supermarket. More than 60 percent of respondents stated that they would be willing to pay at least five cents a pound more for meat raised without antibiotics. More than a third (37%) would pay a dollar or more extra per pound.

The majority of respondents (72%) were extremely or very concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed, including the potential to create "superbugs" that are immune or resistant to antibiotics. More than 60 percent were just as concerned with the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed allowing them to be raised in unsanitary and crowded conditions for livestock, human consumption of antibiotic residue, and environmental effects due to agricultural runoff containing antibiotics."


Nobody is trying to limit the use of antibiotics for animals who are sick and need them just as people need them for infections. It is the routine, everyday use of antibiotics that is endangering this precious medical asset that we all rely upon and bills are pending in several jurisdictions to ban their routine use.


First, examine your own consumption of meat and make sure that if you buy meat it is certified as free from antibiotics.

Second, support bills at the local, state and federal level which would limit antibiotic use to sick animals. Write or call your legislators and tell them that you support such bills.

For a deeper analysis of this critical issue, please see the following websites:

Natural Resources Defense Council

Humane Society of the United States

Cable News Network (CNN)


Grace Communications Foundation


Pigs are highly intelligent animals and many experts believe that their intelligence is equal to, or greater than, that of dogs. As well as intelligence they have sensitivity to their living conditions. Like us, they need food, shelter, exercise, stimulation and love.

One pig who has been taken into a home is the famous pig, "Esther". She lives in Canada with two humans who adopted her and then became vegans because of their love for her. To view this loving tribute to the life of "Esther the Wonder Pig" and her human companions, please see the following video:


"Esther the Wonder Pig" by Janet Hastings

But alongside this moving story of compassion there are hundreds of factory farms in the United States that are turning over 100 million pigs into bacon and ham each year. How can they do this when each one of these sensitive animals is an Esther with the capacity to love, feel, and give?

There is an effort in the agricultural business to portray themselves as family farmers like the farm described in Charlotte's Web, with sunny outdoor conditions for the animals and fields of green grass. If you look on the containers for butter and milk and you will see these happy pictures. However, this is a purposely created and false illusion. Individually owned farms, known as "family farms", produce a small percentage of food animals such as cows, pigs and chickens. Most come from factory farms which are large, corporately-owned industrialized operations that raise billions of animals each year to sell for slaughter.

On most factory farms, mother pigs spend the majority of their lives in "gestation crates" approximately 7 feet by 2 feet - too small for them even to turn around. Internationally acclaimed professor Temple Grandin of Colorado State University states that "...basically you're asking a sow to live in an airline seat". A few states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island) have banned these crates but the majority of states still allow them.

At just two to three weeks old, piglets are removed from their mothers and placed in large, windowless sheds without fresh air, sunlight or outdoor access.Then this cycle is repeated for several years until the sows can no longer produce and are sent to slaughter. What kind of life is this?

Europe is far ahead of the United States in its treatment of pigs and other farmed animals. The European Union has passed what are known as the "Five Freedoms" for farm animals:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst - access to fresh water and a diet for full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from discomfort - an appropriate environment with shelter and a comfortable rest area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease - prevention or rapid treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior - adequate space and facilities, company of the animal's own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress - conditions and treatment which avoid mental sufferings.

Why can't we do that here? It is commonplace for farm associations to deride suggestions from people who haven't been raised in farming communities. How can you know what it's really like, they ask. In return I ask this question: if factory farmers are so anxious to have the "real" picture conveyed, why are they so resistant to letting us know what's going on in their premises? Why are there laws in eight states, known as "Ag-gag laws"* and strongly supported by the pork producers, to ban the taking of pictures on their premises if there is
no cruelty?

In this story I have described love and cruelty, two opposites that exist in our treatment of pigs. Which will you choose?  For more on this subject, please consult the following websites:

(Factory Farms and Family Farms)

(Wikipedia on Gestation Crates)

(Pigs on Factory Farms / ASPCA)

(European Treatment of Farm Animals)

(Vegetarian Alternatives)

*To read my essay on these laws, go to the Animal Law page and scroll down, or simply click Here.


Visitors may write to Janet Hastings & Larry Weiss here:  honor.animals1@gmail.com