An article published on the Next City website reports that the Netherlands is acting assertively to reduce the routine use of antibiotics on livestock “without any negative effects on production rates or profits.”
The U.S. livestock industry in recent decades has sharply increased its use of antibiotics to try to prevent rather than cure diseases among animals raised for their meat. This has coincided with much of the industry crowding livestock into concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
There are rising concerns that this practice is spawning an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, that are endangering human health and making it harder for these one-time wonder drugs to cure diseases, including food-related infections such as MRSA. Many consumers are seeking out meat products that are free of routinely applied antibiotics, and a number of producers and food processors are responding to that market demand.
The Dutch experience could provide more ammunition for those pushing for change. Rachel Keeton writes in the Next City article, “Early data indicates that the Dutch experiment has been a success: drug-resistant bacteria are declining in cows, pigs, chickens and veal… The next step will be to see if there is a similar decline in drug-resistant bacteria in humans.”
Why is what Holland is doing a big deal? Keeton reports that the Netherlands — the size of the state of Maryland and with a population of fewer than 17 million people — is the world’s second-largest exporter of food behind only the United States, and is Europe’s biggest meat exporter.