Antibiotic resistance: A threat to SA’s beef industry

August 2019: Beefmaster Group is calling on South African farmers and the cattle industry at large to reduce its reliance on antibiotics, due to the problem of antibiotic resistance causing a threat to the long-term health of the national herd, and the SA beef industry at large. 


“We need to prioritise herd health by practicing responsible antibiotic use. The use of Schedule 4 drugs in the industry is showing an upward trend and will eventually lead to farmers being unable to treat sick cattle once the bacteria develop resistance against these treatments,” says Roelie van Reenen, Supply Chain Executive of the Beefmaster. 


The antibiotic problem 


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health and food security today. Once bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, drugs will become less effective against bacterial infections. WHO has warned that the world is facing challenges with antibiotics that still work as many of these are used extensively to treat human patients. WHO has called on industry and governments to urgently develop a new generation of drugs. 


Van Reenen says that the issue of antibiotic resistance is not only something that impacts human health, but also the cattle industry. 


“Farmers must understand that their herds will become far less valuable if antibiotics are not used responsibly. We should not continually use antibiotics in feed for cattle. Instead, we should be looking at ways to build herd health.”


What is responsible antibiotic use?


Dr Shaun Morris, a feedlot consultant in South Africa, says that the use of antibiotics must be sensibly,  in other words, only with to tend to the welfare of sick animals.


“We should practise a judicious use of antibiotics where we ensure that the right dose is administered to cattle and adhere to strict antibiotic withdrawal periods before the animal is sent to slaughter. This will ensure that enough time passes so that no antibiotics are present in the meat before it is consumed,” says Dr Morris. 


How to build a healthy herd without antibiotics


“Cattle farmers should be vaccinating cows and focussing on building an immune system within the calf. Contrary to popular belief, it’s more cost-effective to take this approach. This will ensure that you will more than likely get a higher production rate,” says van Reenen.


According to Dr Morris, building a healthy herd starts with vaccinating the parent stock. “Cows should be vaccinated at least 30 days prior to calving as this vaccination will ensure that new-born calves are protected, through colostrum, against bacterial environmental challenges that they will face in their first few months of life,” says Dr Morris.


Another way to build herd health with a calf is to take advantage of the ‘golden period’ of colostrum administration.  Dr Morris explains that in the first six hours after its birth, there is a golden period in which a calf must have optimum intake of colostrum through suckling on its mother. The colostrum contains high levels of vitamin A, protein and energy. Missing out on the golden period will leave calves vulnerable to neonatal diseases, thereby exacerbating the issue of over-reliance on antibiotics.  


Considering this, van Reenen is calling on cattle farmers to seek professional animal husbandry advice and implement best practices which will ensure healthy, strong cattle without the dangerous excessive use of antibiotics, which contributes towards antibiotic resistance. 


“This will help farmers produce quality South African beef that will over the long term be superior. This is because these animals will be far more valuable than those who have been over-exposed to antibiotics,” concludes van Reenen. 


About the Beefmaster Group


Beefmaster Group is a leading specialist producer of quality beef products to South Africa, the Middle- and Far East, and beyond.


We are one of the largest privately-owned beef production companies in South Africa. Beefmaster Group is involved in the entire value chain, from rearing and farming cattle to delivering meat-based products to customers.


This requires many fundamentals that are not traditionally agricultural, such as fleet management of road trucks, earth-moving equipment, cattle health and feed, meat cutting and packaging, and fully-equipped workshops

We believe that all cattle breeds have the potential to deliver exceptional beef products. We forge strong relationships with both established and emerging farmers to access a variety of cattle, regardless of breed, helping farmers boost the quality and sustainability of their herds by offering training, mentorship programmes and offtake agreements, amongst others.


Our state-of-the-art technology and world-class facilities allow us to customise and “produce to order” for some of the biggest players in the food industry.


Our exceptional team of highly-trained staff, operating in line with the highest possible safety standards, enables us to be a trusted supplier and partner. Our traceability system allows us to track and trace our beef throughout the supply chain. This means we can confidently promise a quality end product.


We commit resources to not only our staff but also local communities, with a view to sustainably and positively impact the environment in which we do business.