1. News & Issues

Why are factory farmed animals given antibiotics and hormones such as rBGH?

By

Kid goats
[Richard Drury]/[Iconica]/Getty Images
Question: Why are factory farmed animals given antibiotics and hormones such as rBGH?
Many people are surprised to hear that farmed animals are routinely given antibiotics and growth hormones. Concerns include animal welfare as well as human health.
Answer:

Factory farms cannot afford to care about animals collectively or individually. The animals are merely a product, and antibiotics and growth hormones such as rGBH are employed to make the operation more profitable.

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

The faster an animal gets to slaughter weight or the more milk an animal produces, the more profitable the operation. Approximately two-thirds of all beef cattle in the US are given growth hormones, and approximately 22 percent of dairy cows are given hormones to increase milk production.

The European Union has banned the use of hormones in beef cattle, and has conducted a study that showed that hormone residues remain in the meat. Because of health concerns for both people and animals, Japan, Canada, Australia and the European Union have all banned the use of rBGH, but the hormone is still given to cows in the US. The EU has also banned the import of meat from animals treated with hormones, so the EU imports no beef from the US.

Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) causes cows to produce more milk, but its safety for both people and cows is questionable. Additionally, this synthetic hormone increases the incidence of mastitis, an infection of the udder, which causes the secretion of blood and pus into the milk.

Antibiotics

To combat mastitis and other diseases, cows and other farmed animals are given regular doses of antibiotics as a preventive measure. If a single animal in a herd or a flock is diagnosed with an illness, the entire herd receives the medication, usually mixed in with the animals’ feed or water, because it would be too expensive to diagnose and treat only certain individuals.

Another concern is “subtherapeutic” doses of antibiotics that are given to the animals to cause weight gain. Although it is not clear why small doses of antibiotics cause animals to gain weight and the practice has been banned in the European Union and Canada, it is legal in the United States.

All of this means that healthy cows are being given antibiotics when they don’t need them, which leads to another health risk.

Excessive antibiotics are a concern because they cause the spread of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Because antibiotics will kill off most of the bacteria, the drugs leave behind resistant individuals, which then reproduce more rapidly without competition from other bacteria. These bacteria then spread throughout the farm and/or spread to people who come into contact with the animals or the animal products. This is not an idle fear. Antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella have already been found in animal products in the human food supply.

The Solution

The World Health Organization believes that prescriptions should be required for antibiotics for farmed animals, and several countries have banned the use of rBGH and subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics, but these solutions consider only human health and do not consider animal rights. From an animal rights standpoint, the solution is to stop eating animal products and go vegan.

Have a question or comment? Discuss in the Forum.

  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. Animal Rights
  4. Animals Used for Food
  5. Factory Farmed Animals and Antibiotics, Hormones, rBGH

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.