Cargill announced March 8 that it is eliminating 20% of shared-class antibiotics — those deemed important for human medicine and farm animals — from its four feedyards in Texas, Kansas and Colorado and four additional feedyards operated by Friona Industries, a strategic business partner that supplies Cargill with cattle.
The total number of cattle involved annually is approximately 1.2 million head.
This move comes after Cargill evaluated both existing third-party research and research the company previously conducted regarding reduced antibiotic use and took customer and consumer input into consideration. For the beef cattle this announcement concerns, Cargill does not use any antibiotics for growth promotion that are medically important for human health.
"Our decision to eliminate 20% of the antibiotics used in our beef cattle (that) are also used for human health took into consideration customer and consumer desires to help ensure the long-term medical effectiveness of antibiotics for both people and animals," said John Keating, president of Cargill's Wichita, Kan.-based beef business. "We need to balance those desires with our commitment to ensure the health of animals raised for food, which contributes to the production of safer food."
Implementation of this decision builds upon Cargill's 2014 decision to eliminate growth-promoting antibiotics from its U.S. turkey business, which was completed in time for the 2015 holiday turkey season and underscores the company's stated commitment to reduce the use of human antibiotics in food production.
Cargill said it will also continue to explore alternatives to antibiotics that could further reduce their use in beef cattle.
"Scientific research and yet-to-be-discovered innovative technologies could certainly help us further reduce — or eliminate — the need for antibiotics in the beef supply chain," Keating said. "We have an obligation to ensure that sick animals do not suffer and that we prevent them from becoming ill, and we will use ongoing research efforts as the basis for any future additional reductions in antibiotic use. We've listened to consumers and our customers, we've taken this first step and we believe there are more steps coming in the not-too-distant future."
Cargill will also increase the Beef Quality Assurance-certified feedyards that supply its cattle to 90% by 2018, becoming the first major beef processor to establish such a target.
Cargill added that it is collaborating with cattle ranchers, researchers, universities and allied partners to identify production practices and viable alternatives that could result in further reduction in the use of medicines for food animal production.