Antibiotics in organic vegetables and honey
January 9, 2009 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Worried about antibiotics in your beef? Organic vegetables (and pirated honey) may be no better. 90% of animal antibiotics are excreted as dung which is then used as fertilizer. The amounts are smaller but cumulative, particularly in potatoes, lettuce.
posted by stbalbach (31 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Bring on Soylent Blue.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:41 AM on January 9, 2009

Solution: Only put the feces of unhealthy animals on your food.
posted by DU at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2009

Worried about antibiotics in your beef?

Not really. The Prozac in my tap water keeps me worry free.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:48 AM on January 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Yet another reason why you should never eat anything, ever.
posted by bondcliff at 8:53 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

God, we're fucking begging for newe stains of mult-resistant bacteria aren't we?
posted by Artw at 8:53 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Solution: Only put the feces of unhealthy animals on your food.

Heh. Of course then theres the question of *why* the animals need antibiotics, and once you start looking at that non-organic milk starts looking very unappealing.
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on January 9, 2009

I took a double take when I looked at this story and thought that farmers were actually administering antibiotics to plants, for some reason. The actual story is somewhat bad news, but doesn't make us any more susceptible to the worst effect of antibiotic overuse, which is unilateral disarmament in the war against human disease.

We are begging for it, and we're getting what we're asking for, too.
posted by grobstein at 8:59 AM on January 9, 2009

I am not worried about antibiotics in my food, I am worried about the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in farm animals leading to more drug resistant bugs that then might get into my food.
posted by caddis at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2009

It sounds like quite small quantities too (though they make ominous noises about potatoes).

Now I think about it, it seems obvious that such contamination would occur. Still kind of depressing though.
posted by Artw at 9:05 AM on January 9, 2009

Aw, man. And I was (After the Holiday Potato Fest) just getting back into 'taters, too.
posted by cavalier at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2009

To be clear, the problem is not organic farming, but the use of antibiotics in raising beef, right? Just to be clear about the wording here.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:24 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Excellent. Here's another thing for my girlfriend to be paranoid about.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:25 AM on January 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

Boil the potatoes and then all the antibiotics (and other nutrients) are in the water. Problem solved.
posted by robtf3 at 9:25 AM on January 9, 2009

People have long been exposed to antibiotics in meat and milk. Now, the new research shows that they also may be ingesting them from vegetables, perhaps even ones grown on organic farms.

*perhaps* is the word used here regarding organic vegtables. That's not very conclusive, yet the title and wording of this post make it sound like the article is about organic vegetables specifically, which it's not.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Five Stages of Right-Wing Denial:

Deregularization works! The Invisible Hand! The Invisible Hand will fix this!

Sure, there's a little problem here, but nothing that Cutting the Capital Gains Tax won't fix!

Well, ok, maybe we have a real problem, but it's really the fault of Science! And teaching Evilution in the Schools!

This isn't the problem, it's real problem is the moral corruption of America exemplified by abortion and fag marriage!

Maybe it's a big problem, but no worries, it's just more evidence that the End Times are at hand, so it really doesn't matter if we turn the while planet into a toxic waste dump, Jesus'll tribulate us anyway!
posted by orthogonality at 9:35 AM on January 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

I read the article quickly and it seems to me they are throwing all antibiotics into one big category.

The primary drug (an antibiotic) dairy farmers use is for mastitis and it comes in 12ml containers that you treat for a few days. The best available tests are used to test the milk (usually 72-96 hours after last treatment) and if they come back positive you can't ship the milk. I find it hard to believe this is contributing to mass amounts of residual antibiotics in the soil

I'm wondering if the pig manure has an antibiotic that they are feeding to the pig in there food and then they excrete it out, thus high amounts in the manure. Especially when the pigs digestive tract is not 100% efficient.

We feed some groups of dairy heifers (non milk producing) a low level natural antibiotic in there food (Monensin). Maybe this is coming out in there manure, I don't know. The interesting thing about this antibiotic is that it makes there stomach work more efficiently (killing bad bacteria and leaving more good).

Dairy manure is a bit different as it is usually spread on land that produces forage for the cows, (alfalfa, hay, corn, etc.) and not generally spread on human food. It also tends to sit around in a tank for 6 months or so beforehand which could give time for the antibiotics to dissipate (if there are any).

If the public decides that they don't want antibiotics fed to animals in there feed, no problem, ban the practice. They only result is your price for bacon or milk will go up a few cents in th store.
posted by sety at 9:39 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

By the way, organic farmers have known about antibiotic contamination from manures for years. I have a hard copy of a sustainable farming manual from 2003 that recommends against raw manure use in organic farms because composting manure eliminates many antibiotics.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:42 AM on January 9, 2009

because= not the right word.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2009

artw: We're extremely fortunate in the Seattle area to have some fantastic suppliers of extremely high-quality milk in our neck of the woods. While the value of organic-in-name-only food is debatable at best, we're in the privileged position of having milk available to us from animals that are healthy and well-kept on well-kept soil.

As for treating livestock with antibiotics, my fever dream is some sort of Not Stupid® regulation that states you can treat your critters with antibiotics WHEN THEY'RE FUCKING SICK without losing organic certification while not allowing blanket application of antibiotics as a tool to enable raising livestock in shit-smeared, unsanitary conditions. Heath "wooly pigs" Putnam has a nice rant about organic certification vs. quality that I think is worth a read. He does argue from the point of view that quality and taste are the measures of agricultural practices and doesn't address externalities such as breeding MRSA in confined pig operations but, as it turns out, the best way to ensure quality product is to keep the animals that produce or constitute the product as happy and healthy as possible.

Annnnnnddddd on preview, I realize I entirely misread artw's comment as stating that organic milk is of little value. I'm kind of pleased with my collection of links so I'm going to post anyway. Come spring, I'll bring artw a dozen eggs to make up for it.
posted by stet at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Heh, no worried. I’m glad you figured out eggs-actly* what I meant, but you don’t need to shell out on any eggs.

* Egg - like an egg!
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2009

Also we tend to get Horizon rather a lot, is it really all that bad?
posted by Artw at 10:45 AM on January 9, 2009

I read the article quickly and it seems to me they are throwing all antibiotics into one big category.


I worked on a ranch that could sell a beef calf for up to $60,000 US. Obviously, they were raising breeding stock and they were sure-as-shit not organic but had an intense interest in the well-being of their animals. The cattle were pastured all summer and housed/kept in a sacrificial paddock during the montana winters while being fed ranch-grown grass which was, except for the mild pesticides I sprayed to kill leafy spurge, entirely organic. Not certified, of course.

And when an animal got sick, she got antibiotics. Not in her feed, but as an individually applied injection based on the close observation of a very valuable critter and what her health needed. This is good medicine and good agriculture and it's not organic because, as it stands, organic regulations aren't that well written. And I understand, writing good regulations is really, really fucking hard. Think moderating a website where you're not allowed to make any judgment calls and every griefer has a staff of highly paid lawyers hard.

If the public decides that they don't want antibiotics fed to animals in there feed, no problem, ban the practice.

Regarding this, I sympathize with the sentiment but I'm not even sure if we need to ban the practice. The public, for example, desperately wants to by milk from cows that haven't been treated with rBGH and, without comment on whether this reluctance is justified, it's a valid choice for a consumer to make. However, agribusiness interests have worked to ban the labeling of rBGH-free milk. Even if rBGH is nutritionally, socially, and environmentally neutral, I am entitled as a producer to differentiate my product and as a consumer to buy what I choose to buy even if it's as arbitrary as the choice of color of the thread used to attach the elastic to my underwear. We don't, in this case, need to ban the practice so much as we need to keep it legal for producers to inform consumers of the practices they use. In the case of antibiotics in farm animals, I'd love to see a certification that says that producers are using antibiotics responsibly (however that can be defined) rather than the current all-or-nothing labeling that we've got. In my case, I'm fortunate enough to know most of the producers of my food so I don't worry about certification or labeling (Of course, there are folks I will not buy from), but that's no more of a realistic expectation for all eaters than it is to expect every computer user to compile their own drivers.

I haven't got a solution, but if one could be created by wishing really, really hard, I'd be all over it.
posted by stet at 10:54 AM on January 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

surely if the farmers use 'organic' manure, there wont be a problem will there?
posted by criticalbill at 10:57 AM on January 9, 2009

Also we tend to get Horizon rather a lot, is it really all that bad?

Not great, they're always flirting with losing their certification and I'm not a great fan of their labor practices. I'm getting more and more impressed with Organic Valley as far as large producers go. Of course, food is my Thing and I spend way more time and energy on it than any normal person should. It is my personal plate of beans. However, if you can find it, Fresh Breeze is way more delicious.

And once our birds start laying again, I'll be knee deep in eggs that'll spoil you for grocery store eggs for the rest of your life. The first one's free, you'll be back. Muah hah hah haaaaahhh!
posted by stet at 11:05 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

surely if the farmers use 'organic' manure, there wont be a problem will there?

In Washington, farmers with organic certification are only allowed to apply manure either 120 or 90 days prior to harvest (I don't recall which) as, apparently, a food safety measure. Curiously, farmers without organic certification have no such restriction and can go nuts with the poo.

(Of course, properly composted manure* isn't manure anymore and you can go nuts with it. Good regulations are hard and the WSDA does more good work than bad.)

*Properly composted means the pile hit a uniform 140 degrees F five times.
posted by stet at 11:13 AM on January 9, 2009

stet: The 90/120 days before harvest rule is national, for organics, as far as I know. I think the number of days varies depending on whether the produce comes into contact with the manure or not. The longer period is for manure-contact crops.

I just found this article about the effect of composting (even half-assedly, just by waiting a little while) on antibiotic levels. The gist appears to be that after 28 days, antibiotic residues are significantly reduced, up to 99% but the amount varies somewhat by the type of composting and by the specific antibiotic.

All of which makes me think that organics must surely have a much smaller problem with drug residues than conventionally grown crops, right?

My goodness. Now that I read the SciAm article, it has a lot of stuff in it that doesn't make any sense at all.

"While there are restrictions on use of raw manure in U.S. organic farming because of concern over bacteria, no such rules are in place regarding antibiotics or hormones."

Restrictions on raw manure are just that. The motivation may have been bacteria, but the restriction applies to all raw manure, regardless. "No such rules are in place" is just plain wrong.

They also give onkly the sketchiest idea of how the study was conducted, but from: "The Minnesota researchers planted corn, green onion and cabbage in manure-treated soil in 2005 to evaluate the environmental impacts of feeding antibiotics to livestock. Six weeks later, the crops were analyzed and found to absorb chlortetracycline, a drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock," it sounds as if they dumped raw manure in some greenhouse soil and planted crops in it. That is not an acceptable practice under certified-organic rules. But the article goes out of its way to implicate organics anyway.

All in all, it reads very weird. Like:

"Gupta said all growers should be told that composting can help. Composting decays piles of food or manure as microbes decompose organic matter using oxygen to survive, grow and reproduce. Heating up the material creates conditions conducive for bacteria to break down antibiotics and pathogens."

Yes. Because so few organic producers are aware of the benefits of composting. WTF?
posted by rusty at 11:31 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

We get Organic Valley a lot too, I think that's the one we tend to favour. Our daughter still drinks a lot of goat milk from meyenberg.
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on January 9, 2009

If anyone is curious, I think the article is talking about these two studies.
posted by parudox at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2009

At what point can we ban the use of antibiotics in agriculture, by way of its endangerment to human health?
posted by eustatic at 10:41 AM on January 10, 2009

""Nobody particularly eats corn or soybean directly," said Satish Gupta, a University of Minnesota professor of soil science and study leader."
Am I really unusual in consuming unprocessed corn and soybeans?
posted by Mitheral at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2009

The Five Stages of Right-Wing Denial

The Brain of Orthogonality in Basic

20 GOTO 10
posted by Krrrlson at 3:24 PM on January 10, 2009

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