Big Ag Switching to Vaccines to Woo Meat Eaters Wary of Antibiotics


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To combat diseases affecting livestock raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (or CAFOs, also known as “factory farms”) Big Ag is increasingly reliant on “animal Pharma,” which Martha Rosenberg described in a February 2020 CounterPunch article as treating livestock diseases with drugs. Drug companies like Merck now manufacture vaccines to inoculate livestock against diseases that have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics due to overuse of antibiotics. With the switch from antibiotic treatments to vaccines, meat producers now advertise their products as having “no antibiotics,” Rosenberg reported.

The global animal vaccine market is now worth an estimated $7.2 billion, which reflects a rise of $1.7 billion since 2010. One of its leaders is Merck, which currently advertises forty-nine vaccines for poultry—to prevent everything from fowl pox and turkey coryza to salmonella and E. coli—and twenty-five vaccines for cattle. Although vaccines to prevent salmonella, for example, may seem like a positive development, as Rosenberg noted, many vaccines are produced from GMO spores, which a 2018 study in Veterinary Research flagged as cause for “environmental concerns” because the spores have “the potential to survive indefinitely in the environment,” posing “biological containment” problems that the study described as “crucial.”

As Rosenberg wrote, antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones remain prevalent in meat marketed in the US, often without adequate labeling to inform consumers. As her CounterPunch report noted, antibiotics in the meat have been linked to drug resistance and superbugs, obesity, and asthma, while vaccines have been linked to oxidative stress and harm from exposure to heavy metals. A 2018 study by Consumer Reports found that banned or restricted drugs “may appear in the U.S meat supply more often than previously known.”

Source: Martha Rosenberg, “These Drugs Are in US Meat But Not on the Label,” CounterPunch, February 7, 2020, http://www.counterpunch.org/2020/02/07/these-drugs-are-in-us-meat-but-not-on-the-label/.

Student Researcher: Liam MacKenzie (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)

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