Chicken Producers Hit Back at Article on Use of Antibiotics in Chicken Feed

US - US chicken producers have hit back at criticism levelled at it in an article from the newsagency Reuters, claiming that antibiotics used in human medicine are frequently used as growth promoters in feed for chickens.
calendar icon 16 September 2014
clock icon 5 minute read

The article, Special Report: Poultry firms systematically feed low-dose antibiotics to flocks, states that “Major U.S. poultry firms are administering antibiotics to their flocks far more pervasively than regulators realize, posing a potential risk to human health.

“Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.

“In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.”

However, the US National Chicken Council (NCC) said that the majority of antibiotics approved for use in raising chickens are not used in human medicine, and those that are will be phased out for growth promotion purposes by December, 2016.

“We understand the concern about the use of antibiotics in farm animals and recognise our responsibility to ensure they are properly used for the right reasons to protect the health of animals, humans and the food supply,” said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, in response to a Reuters article today about antibiotic use in the poultry industry.

“All antibiotics used to prevent and treat disease in chickens are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The majority of these antibiotics are never used in human medicine and therefore represent no threat of creating resistance in humans,” Dr Peterson said.

The NCC said that about 10 per cent of the feed tickets reviewed by Reuters list antibiotics belonging to medically important drug classes – the exact ones that both the industry and FDA are currently phasing out for growth promotion purposes.

“While minimally used in raising chickens, by December 2016, these antibiotics that are important to human medicine will be labelled for use in food animals only to prevent and treat disease, under the supervision and care of a veterinarian,” Dr Peterson added.

“The industry has fully cooperated with the FDA, and many poultry and pharmaceutical companies are moving far in advance of regulatory deadlines for compliance.

“There are responsible, approved standards of veterinary treatment that benefit animal welfare and human health by reducing the need for heavier doses of antibiotics in the event of widespread disease,” Dr Peterson explained.

“Much like a companion animal veterinarian would use de-worming compounds to prevent illness in puppies and kittens, chicken producers and veterinarians use compounds to prevent and treat intestinal diseases in the birds they care for in the field.

“Since the article did not contain perspectives from animal scientists or poultry veterinarians, the reader is left without this context and unfortunately left with hypothetical comments from a few sources.”

Antibiotics themselves and their dosage rates have been approved by the FDA. Any feed mill that makes feed which contains an FDA-approved and regulated product, like an antibiotic, is subject to FDA authority and inspection.

Contrary to what Reuters reports, these mills keep records of antibiotic use and the information is available to FDA and regulators.

Dr Peterson said that it is not surprising that a farm may have antibiotics listed on a feed ticket.

The important answers, she added, are found in the detail behind the use of the antibiotic.

“Is the antibiotic made exclusively for animals? If it is an antibiotic used in human medicine, is it being used to treat or prevent a disease? Is a veterinarian involved in this treatment decision? Is it administered according to an approved label?”

Finally, Dr Peterson took contention with the story’s repeated use of the term “Superbugs.”

She said that as the FDA has stated, “it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antibiotics as ‘Superbugs’ if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics.”

The NCC added that Reuters also failed to point out that according to the most recent FDA data, 85 per cent of Salmonella collected from humans had no resistance to any of the antibiotics tested, and multi-drug resistance in Salmonella from humans and chickens is the lowest since FDA began testing.

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