The Lexicon of Sustainability: "Antibiotic-Free" featuring Bill & Nicolette Niman of BN Ranch

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Nicolette Hahn Niman, BN Ranch
Nicolette Hahn Niman, BN Ranch

In the latest video from the Lexicon of Sustainability's Douglas Gayeton, "Antibiotic-Free," Bill and Nicolette Niman of BN Ranch share their thoughts on the growing movement in the U.S. to remove sub-therapeutic antibiotics from American beef. Excerpts from a conversation with attorney and livestock rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman with Gayeton follow below.

5 Quotes from Nicolette Hahn Niman of BN Ranch in Bolinas, CA (Excerpted from a conversation with Douglas Gayeton)

What sparked her initial interest in the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry: "My interest in this issue started when I was working as an environmental lawyer, because we became aware that the vast majority of antibiotics in the United States every year are actually used in animal agriculture. Even more troubling, they are actually used on animals that are not sick, [but] just to speed up their growth and to enable the crowded conditions for their housing. This is a huge environmental issue because it’s potentially on the food -- these antibiotics resistant bacteria -- as well as the antibiotic residue, and it’s also in the environment."

Nearly 80% of the antibiotics in this country aren’t used on people but on animals we eat.

Problems with antiobiotic use: "The biggest problem with using antibiotics in animal farming is the potential for their overuse...When they are overused by continually feeding them in their daily feed, which is common practice today in the United States, is when populations of bacteria [on farms] evolve that are very resistant to these drugs. When humans come in contact with those bacteria, either by being on the farm or even by eating the food products from that farm, a person can contract an illness that cannot be treated with antibiotics. It’s really a huge human health issue and I think that really is the primary concern."

Antibiotics for treatment vs. accelerating growth: "The interesting thing is…there are these two totally different uses. The one is for treating an individual animal that is actually sick and treating them with the prescribed dose. That usage of antibiotics has not been shown to contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In contrast to that usage, [there's] the usage of sub-therapeutic antibiotics, where animals are continually being given this low dose. Sub-therapeutic antibiotics This has been shown repeatedly in many studies to foster the rise of antibiotics-resistant bacteria. In my opinion, using antibiotics to treat an illness of an individual animal is entirely defensible and actually a good practice. Whereas, overusing antibiotics and continually feeding them to speed the animal’s growth is a totally unacceptable practice."


Beef as an efficient food source: "Beef has often cited as a very inefficient food source. I would rather argue that depends on how those animals are raised. If you’re raising them in a way that you require a lot of grain to be produced, a lot of water to be used in producing that feed, then indeed it’s an inefficient food source. On the other hand, if you’re raising cattle in an area with natural grassland -- especially if doesn't have to be irrigated -- it could be an extremely efficient food source. And not only that, it can utilize this grazing natural grassland that really could never be used for any other form of food production. Depending on how and where we're raising cattle, it can be a very efficient food source."

Local vs. regionally-produced beef: "I would never argue that meat should be totally locally produced. It’s always been the case that certain geographies are more appropriate raising of certain types of animals than other geographies. Therefore I will argue more for a regional kind of food system, where foods are produced in sort of large food shed areas and certain foods maybe transported longer distances -- if they are produced especially well in certain geographies. This is actually a good example of food that probably could never be totally locally produced if you want it really an efficient system because you have huge swath of the United States, especially in the far West, that are natural grasslands and are uniquely suited for cattle grazing. It would actually be wasteful to totally not use it for that purpose if we're trying to think about the most efficient food system. Some foods, especially meat -- because it’s more resource-intensive than other foods -- should be shipped longer distances."

Antibiotic-Free artwork

The David Brower Center in Berkeley is hosting a free evening event on May 1 that marks the closing of the "Lexicon of Sustainability" informational artworks exhibit. Douglas Gayeton will host a complimentary coffee and chocolate tasting party to celebrate the release of his new book, "Local: The Faces of Food and Farming in America." Festivities will conclude with a special video presentation followed by a panel discussion led by Gayeton.

All images, artwork and video by Douglas Gayeton