Cargill: Consumers in US, Brazil want to see antibiotics out of cattle feed

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Cargill’s ‘Feed for Thought’ survey highlights that many consumers want to see antibiotics left out of cattle feed and production. 

The Minnesota-based company’s survey examined purchasing habits of consumers in both the US and Brazil, the two largest beef producers, said Cargill. Survey details were released Tuesday.

“Consumer preferences for how beef cattle are raised and fed are evolving,” said Clint Calk, beef commercial director, Cargill Animal Nutrition in a release. “More and more people care not only about the food they eat, but also about what is fed to animals that produce our food. As a result, we are working hard to develop natural alternatives to antibiotics designed to improve sustainability and to answer the call for more options from our customers and consumers.”

Although the majority of respondents in both countries, 54% of US consumers and 69% of Brazilians, said they were more likely to buy beef that was not raised with antibiotics, only about 35% in both countries said they were willing to pay more for it.

“Consumer attitudes are continuing to evolve, and it is important for our industry to have a clear understanding of where the market is going so we can best anticipate how to work with our customers,” Calk told FeedNavigator. “Cargill Animal Nutrition is an organization rooted in research and innovation, and we will continue to develop solutions that meet the needs of our customers.”

Survey details

The survey was conducted in the US from July 11-13 and included answers from a “demographically representative sample” of 1,016 adults, the company said. In Brazil, the survey ran from July 15-20 and included responses from 1,003 individuals.

The project was part of ongoing company efforts to understand perceptions and opinions regarding parts of the animal protein supply chain, said Calk. “We will continue to conduct these surveys on a regular basis,” he added.

“This survey is one of many data points we take into account as we continue to innovate and expand our research and development capabilities to develop an array of solutions that meet our customer needs,” he said.

To address the cost difference between cattle fed antibiotics and those produced without them, the company will continue to seek solutions designed to meet consumer requests and cost of production, he said.

That work includes establishing antibiotic alternatives including essential oils, yeasts and plant extracts, the company said.

“The market is clearly telling us it is important to provide an array of options so we can best serve our customers and the consumer,” said Calk. “It tells us that we are doing the right thing by continuing to bring our full research, development and innovation capabilities into action to continue to get better, always keeping the needs of the customer in mind.”

Antibiotic-free production

Cargill has already taken some steps to reduce the amount of antibiotics they use in animal production, the company reported.

In March the company announced that it would be reducing use of shared-class antibiotics by 20%, or those used by both animals and humans, in eight of its beef feed yards. Those cattle also were to be raised without the use of human-important antibiotics for growth promotion.

More recently, the company announced that it would continue to reduce the antibiotics used in its turkey production. It stopped feeding a shared-use drug for disease prevention in several brands.

However, while most production will continue to use antibiotics for disease treatment and control, it also said it has started a turkey product line where the birds are raised with no antibiotics at all.

Antibiotic use stats

It is estimated that in the US, livestock consume about 80% of the antibiotics used annually, according to information from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.

The overall amount used is about 8,000 tons and is predicted to grow to 10,500 tons by 2030.

In 2007-08 15.8% of cow-calf operations said they fed antibiotics, excluding ionophores for disease prevention or growth promotion, reported the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In 2011, 90.5% of large feedlots said they fed antimicrobial ionophores and 44.7% reported using a coccidiostat, said the USDA. Three-quarters of large feedlots, accounting for about 48% of cattle, reported giving antibiotics other than ionophores and coccidiostats in animal feed.

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