Knowing Bodies: Antimicrobial governance across agrifood commodity chains

Authors: David Lansing*, University of Maryland - Baltimore County
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: antimicrobial resistance, commodity chains, accounting, surveillance, environmental governance, agriculture
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 42
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The rising threat of antimicrobial resistance has led to more worldwide surveillance of antibiotic use in agriculture. Recent moves in the United States to govern antibiotic use include the Food and Drug Administration’s veterinary feed directive as well as mandates from agrifood integrators and end users to eliminate antibiotic use. While these efforts appear promising, questions around tracking antibiotic use remain controversial. Seemingly straightforward issues such as knowing how many antibiotics are used in agriculture, and what constitutes an appropriate use of antibiotics, are contested among industry, health advocates, and government. This paper considers the multiple roles precision plays in accounting for antibiotic use, and the effects it has on antibiotic governance. On-farm management simultaneously involves a precise accounting of antibiotic use and impacts as well as ad hoc, highly variable, embodied judgments about animal health. Among governmental actors, the agricultural industry uses precision as a tactic for regulatory delay, where the industry demands ever greater forms of specificity in the data that the government collects. Such demands are nearly impossible to meet and serve as a way to blunt achievable ways of understanding the agricultural industry’s practices. The paper argues that, despite improvements in surveillance and data management, efforts to understand antibiotic use in agriculture is a process of containment and excess, where the microbial ecologies of animals and their human-dominated environments can never be fully captured by the techniques of governance.

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