When Decisions Matter.

Gassy Cows, Part II

In our previous article, we discussed a recent study conducted in Finland, which found that a certain antibiotic, when fed to cattle, causes methane-producing microbes to survive over other important gut microbes. The researchers suggested, based on the results of the study, that the addition of antibiotics in animal feed could be contributing to climate change due to the increase in released methane from manure. However, the study was performed by feeding tetracycline to only ten cows. The researchers are calling for more research in this area.

Antibiotic use in animal feed is a controversial topic globally, as noted in our previous article on antibiotic resistance. Claims that antibiotic use is causing increased climate change adds fuel to that fire. Yet, many are pointing out the animal agriculture contributes such a miniscule amount of GHGs (greenhouse gases) to the atmosphere that research in this area is wasteful. Frank Mitloehner, a professor in Animal Sciences and Air Quality Specialist at The University of California-Davis suggests that research dollars be spent on the transportation and energy production sectors so that real reductions might be realized. He notes that all of animal agriculture contributes only 4.2% of total GHGs (not just methane) released in the United States, while cattle contributes just 2.2%. When compared to the transportation industry that contributes 27% of the GHGs released into the atmosphere, he suggests that big-picture perspective is needed when analyzing animal agriculture’s contribution.

This is not to say that feeding antibiotics to animals does not have any impacts. In our previous article, we discussed the impact that antibiotic feed-additives may have on bacterial resistance. Recently, the FDA published its final rule known as the Veterinary Feed Directive, which makes it illegal to use “medically important” antibiotics in feed. (“Medically important” antibiotics are drugs identified important for treating human diseases.) Importantly, animal producers will need to obtain authorization from a licensed veterinarian to use “medically important” antibiotics for prevention, control or treatment of a specifically identified disease.

If you have concerns or questions about the use of antibiotics on your animal operation, please contact our Agriculture and Industry Group.

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