The new study looks solely at the U.S. industry, which has become concentrated, with large production facilities and advances in genetics and production approaches. A preliminary analysis of even newer data, she said, suggests that productivity and profit estimates may be somewhat higher, though still not as high as those found in the Iowa State research.
The newly published study suggests that a ban on antibiotic use, as has occurred in Denmark, would result in sharp increases in production costs at U.S. facilities, said co-author Paul E. McNamara, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois.
"Many analysts speak about sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics as if it had no production value at all," McNamara said. "This view is puzzling to both producers and economists, since antibiotics used in animal agriculture constitute a significant input into the industry. With the competitive pressures producers face, if the input did not provide a significant production benefit, we would expect producers to drop its use in order to save money and realize higher profits.
"Our results help to quantify the magnitude of this input's importance in today's production environment," he said. "Understanding its importance and role in production is necessary if we are going to shape antibiotic-use policies that consider both the public health risks of an application as well as the economic benefits of its use."
The study also found that antibiotic use might be curtailed at facilities that adjust their feed rations at five or more times to adjust for nutritional needs in various growth and finishing stages. Such an approach reduced the financial gain of antibiotics, but it did not work at facilities adjusting food ratios four or fewer times. Additional work is needed to understand how antibiotics provide specific benefits
Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign