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Organic Farming

Use Of Antibiotics And Growth Regulating Hormones

In some types of intensive culture of agricultural livestock, animals are kept together under very crowded conditions, often inside large buildings in a poorly ventilated and smelly environment, and often continuously exposed to their manure and urine. Under these sorts of conditions animals are highly vulnerable to developing infections of various sorts, which ultimately cause reductions of growth, and may result in their death. To manage this problem, intensive agriculture typically relies on antibiotics. These may be given to animals when they are actually sick, or they may be added continuously to their food as a prophylactic (or preventive) treatment. Ultimately, humans are exposed to small residues of antibiotics in products of these animals that they consume. It has not been scientifically established that this exposure poses an unacceptable risk to humans, potentially occurring, for example, through the evolution of resistant varieties of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Nevertheless, there is controversy about the antibiotic contamination of foodstuffs from intensive agriculture.

Organic farmers might also use antibiotics to treat an infection in a particular sick animal, but they do not continuously add those chemicals to food that is fed to livestock. In addition, many organic farmers attempt to keep their animals under more open and sanitary conditions than are often conventionally used to intensively rear livestock under dense, industrial conditions. Animals that are relatively free of the stresses of crowding and constant exposure to manure are more resistant to diseases, and have less of a need of antibiotics.

In addition, some industrial systems of raising livestock use synthetic growth hormones, such as bovine growth hormone, to increase the productivity of their animals, or of animal products such as milk. Inevitably, these hormones persist in a trace contamination in the animal products that humans consume. Although no significant risk to humans has been convincingly demonstrated from these exposures, there is controversy about the potential effects. Organic farmers do not use synthetic growth hormones to enhance the productivity of their livestock.

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