With rangelands buried under 15 foot drifts, Colorado ranchers are using more supplemental feed, and that's pushed hay prices over $200 per ton -- an increase of nearly 50 percent since the first storm. But cattle producers aren't the only ones enduring higher feed costs. Increased demand for ethanol is fueling a bull market for corn unlike any of its predecessors. While the higher prices are welcomed by growers, they're not exactly good news for hog producers who use corn heavily in feeding regimens. Corn, of course, is just one component of livestock rations. Some producers feed growth-promoting antibiotics to get hogs to market-weight in a shorter time period. But, a 2002 Kansas State University study found use of the antibiotics provided no economic benefits when weaned pigs are grown to market weight. This week, another study revealed similar results in poultry.
A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University indicates that feeding chickens antibiotics actually costs poultry producers more money than it returns.
Since the 1950's, feeding poultry antibiotics to boost growth has been a widespread practice. But, fearing the regimen could lead to increased antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, have argued that the use of growth-promoting antibiotics should be banned.
The Johns Hopkins study did not focus on health issues but instead analyzed the cost benefits of antibiotic feeding programs.
Using data from a study of 7 million chickens previously published by Perdue Farms, a major U. S. producer, researchers found the drugs helped promote growth but cost about a penny per chicken more than the market value the bird gained from antibiotics.
The National Chicken Council, a trade group of major poultry companies, said the study was flawed because it applied average figures for costs that, in fact, vary across the country. In a statement the council also said that poultry producers use antibiotics primarily to treat disease or to promote animal health, not for growth.
The Keep Antibiotics Working coalition, which opposes the use of antibiotics in animal feed, publicized the study which appeared in the January/February edition of the journal "Public Health Reports."
Because there are no government limits or requirements for reporting, there are no precise numbers on how much of the industry uses antibiotics for growth.