Arguments like these are some of the reasons why I am less optimistic about total bans, rather than bans on subtherapeutic and growth promotion use of antibiotics. If there aren’t good treatment alternatives available, then banning antibiotics outright would probably sometimes force producers to leave disease untreated, which seems like it would be really bad for animal welfare. I don’t know how often there are no good treatment alternatives, but I’d guess it’s some decent proportion of disease.
However, I do think the argument is a bit disingenuous. I can’t find the transcript of that speech on Google so I don’t know when it was made, but if it was before March 2019, Sanderson Farms was at that time using antibiotics not just to treat disease, but also to promote the growth of their chickens and prophylactically to prevent disease. Undoubtedly, using antibiotics in these ways has some non-negligable benefits to the chickens’ welfare and to their environmental impact (although I don’t know anything about the environmental impact of producing antibiotics!). But forgoing prophylactic and growth promoting antibiotic use would not force them to abandon their ‘obligation to care for the animals under [their] care’. Also, it doesn’t seem like people oppose using prescribed and targeted antibiotics, which is what the speaker was defending here. Both Tyson and Perdue sell antibiotics with the label ‘No Antibiotics Ever’, but Perdue reassures us in their FAQ:
“Of course, no matter how hard we try, some chickens will “catch something,” and we’ll never withhold appropriate treatment. Those chickens would not be labeled “no-antibiotics ever” and would be sold through different channels.”
I’m therefore somewhat confident that even when producers do sell meat which is labelled ‘No Antibiotics Ever’ they still treat sick animals where antibiotics are the best treatment option. There is a strong economic incentive for them to do so, since mortality, slower growth rates, and worse feed conversion ratios are expensive.
But of course, if any country were to totally ban antibiotics, they wouldn’t be able to do this (I suppose it’s possible they could export the animals needing treatment internationally, but this seems pretty unlikely).
So, for a total ban to be net positive in my opinion, I would have to see strong evidence that a) welfare reforms were widely adopted and b) welfare reforms were effective at preventing disease, or c) antibiotic substitutes were equally effective at treating and/or preventing disease. I think this is a pretty high bar which isn’t very likely to be met, so I would only be in favour of a ban on subtherapeutic/prophylactic and growth promoting use.