The consensus among members of randomly chosen focus group speaking at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit was that sick animals should be treated with antibiotics. However, not all focus group members would necessarily want to eat the meat produced from the animal.

The consumer focus group was assembled by Jan Johnson, Principal, Millennium Research, Inc. The members of the group agreed to answer questions asked by Johnson and later the audience at the summit. However, they were not told until near the conclusion of the question-and-answer session that they were speaking to people directly involved in the animal agriculture industry. The session took place May 5 in Arlington, Virginia.

One audience member, identifying himself at first as a cattle producer, posed a question to the panel, creating a scenario that he had a sick animal. He asked: “Should I or could I be allowed to treat that animal with antibiotics?”

Four of the seven panelists answered. All four said they should treat the animal, yet their support level for antibiotic use varied.


One panelist who identified himself as a former farm worker had no doubt in his mind. “Yes. I love antibiotics,” he said with a hint of humor.

Others gave more complex answers. One woman, who identified herself as a teacher, said she would say yes if the producer sat down and told her everything he knew about the benefits of antibiotics, she would say yes. But she acknowledged that her response might be different if she was asked in a grocery store.

But the session also revealed there are consumers who do not realize that under federal regulations, no antibiotic residues are in the meat from animals treated with antibiotics. A third respondent said the animal should be treated, but she would want the meat to be labeled in a manner that stated the animal was treated. The fourth to speak in favor of treating the cow with antibiotics, said she wanted the animal to be treated, but added she was “not sure I’d eat it,” because of fears of “unnecessary antibiotics” in the meat.

Once the focus group members shared their opinions, the cattle producer revealed that he was also a large animal veterinarian who specializes in infectious diseases in cattle. “I’m glad you allow me use antibiotics to treat the animal from an animal welfare aspect,” he said.