Over-use of antibiotics in chicken production?

Jan 14, 2014 by

Over-use of antibiotics in chicken production?

The cause of antibiotic resistance?

Over-use of antibiotics in the animal production industry and in the medical industry have continued to cause problems in antibiotic resistant strains of deadly bacteria like E.coli and salmonella. The research and the data keep coming.

“Antibiotics are one of the greatest advances in the history of medical science, but we have just watched as their efficacy has been lessened, in some cases literally ruined, by their overuse, partly by the medical profession, but far more by the livestock producers,” says Slaughter. “This is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Scientists of great repute say that if this continues, within a decade strep throat or a cut could become fatal. The American public has got to get around to this fight.”– from Salon 

Last month, the FDA made changes to antibiotic use in animals “voluntary.” However people are calling for more stringent policy and action to prevent the over-use of antibiotics in the large-scale meat production industry. A ban on the routine use of antibiotics instead the FDA’s voluntary change. Representative Slaughter introduced  H.B. 1150, “The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act,” or PAMTA in 2013, but the bill doesn’t have enough cosponsors to gain traction.

Antibiotics, chicken production and food safety

Foster Farms chicken has had three major outbreaks of treatment resistant Salmonella Heidelberg in 2012 and 2013 (this strain is resistant to antibiotics that usually treat salmonella cases). The public outcry related to these outbreaks has focused mainly on the USDA, the FDA, and the FSIS service not having enough teeth and making mandatory product recalls. These federal organizations never make mandatory recalls– they can only suggest voluntary recalls.

Foster Farms truck

Image from NBC News article “Foster Farms salmonella outbreaks: Why didn’t USDA do more?”

Most of the attention is focused on chicken processing (what happens in the processing plants) but does not delve into chicken production (how the chickens are raised). If we want to decrease food-related outbreaks and create a healthier food system, we need to look at the entire food system. Production, transportation, processing, distribution, consumption.

How do Foster Farms and other large-scale chicken production companies use antibiotics in chicken production?  Foster Farms claims that “all of our fresh chicken is 100% natural, locally grown on farms in California and in the Pacific Northwest” but what does “natural” mean?  Production practices at Foster Farms and other similar companies are usually not very transparent. A joint letter was recently sent to Foster Farms asking them to disclose their antibiotic use practices. Maybe this will help link production and consumption…