Hoang notes that the industry is working closely with the FDA to create a prescriptive approach to antibiotics, and that process continues. And the industry is transitioning away from sub-therapeutic uses of antibiotics as well - focusing instead on preventive treatments and more.
There was a discussion on the panel about the cost of food with and without antibiotics. Consumers Union contends that the cost difference isn't that great, as little as 10% to have food without the antibiotics - based on a survey done by CU members of poultry prices. Hoang points out that the poultry industry is vertically integrated. That means birds in a non-antibiotic environment, if they get sick, are often moved to a flock where they are not sold as antibiotic free - the cost to the producer is minimal.
In a larger system where there is no alternative selling channel for treated animals the costs would arguable be higher. Halloran explained the costs are not that much higher and that consumers can substitute lower-priced cuts - instead of skinless, boneless chicken breasts they could buy chicken legs.
Ayoob responded: "I'd love it if you would be with me when I try to explain that to a patient." He notes that many of his patients would find a small price increase in food a significant burden. "And most patients don't see the benefit of the antibiotic-free meat. They don't see the value of a greater good."
The panel reached no conclusions - but the dialogue brought to the forefront the key issues facing the livestock industry. Halloran at the CU did make a statement that may have surprised some of the farmers in the room when it was noted that we need to get ready to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
"That is a completely specious argument," she says, noting "currently there is enough food to feed the current population, except perhaps in Africa." Her contention is there isn't really a food shortage, but instead a problem of delivery and supply management. That differs considerably from what many think is true about the nature of food production in this country.
This is the third set of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Food Dialogues held since the group formed just over two years ago. The effort is a move by 70-plus organizations to help tell the farm story to the consumer. You can learn more by visiting www.fooddialogues.com, and you can watch replays of those dialogues as well.