Oregano as a Replacement for Antibiotics?

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The rampant use of antibiotics in factory farming is one of the most pressing and critical issues facing the industrialized food system today. Antibiotics are misused as growth stimulants and safety nets against the unsanitary conditions found in mass feedlots and factories. Antibiotics are also directly responsible for the rise in “superbugs,” new strains of antibiotic-resistant disease affecting both animals and humans.

The recent article “In Hopes of Healthier Chickens, Farms Turn to Oregano” by Stephanie Strom for The New York Times looks at Scott Sechler’s attempts to use natural compounds (including oregano oil) to ward off bacterial disease, instead of antibiotics.

Off and on over the last three years or so, his chickens have been eating a specially milled diet laced with oregano oil and a touch of cinnamon. Mr. Sechler swears by the concoction as a way to fight off bacterial diseases that plague meat and poultry producers without resorting to antibiotics, which some experts say can be detrimental to the humans who eat the meat. Products at Bell & Evans, based in this town about 30 miles east of Harrisburg, have long been free of antibiotics, contributing to the company’s financial success as consumers have demanded purer foods.

But Mr. Sechler said that nothing he had used as a substitute in the past worked as well as oregano oil.

“I have worried a bit about how I’m going to sound talking about this,” he said. “But I really do think we’re on to something here.”

Although the demand for antibiotic-free meat and poultry represents only a small percent of overall sales in this country, the need to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal farming cannot be ignored.

There is growing concern among health care experts and policy makers about antibiotic resistance and the rise of “superbugs,” bacteria that are impervious to one or more antibiotics. Those bacteria can be passed on to consumers, who eat meat infected with them and then cannot be treated.

The attempts to use an alternative to antibiotics are promising, but it is still unclear wether or not this unique approach can ever fully cancel out the need for antibiotics — and what impact, if any, this would have on large-scale factory farming.

Click here to read the article in full.

Do you think alternatives to antibiotics will ever become common practice in animal farming?

Photo Credit: Jessica Kourkounis | The New York Times