Antibiotic Usage in Meat Is Soaring Worldwide
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Many companies may say that they raise antibiotic-free chickens and pigs, but antibiotic usage is still rampant worldwide
Experts say consumption of antibiotic-fed meat could very well post a serious threat to humanity.
We sleep a little easier at night knowing that companies like Tyson, McDonald’s, and Chipotle raise antibiotic-free chickens and pigs, even though we don’t quite know what that means. But new analysis from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal shows that antibiotic usage in livestock has actually soared worldwide. In the United States alone, 80 percent of all antibiotics go to livestock. This could spell disaster for mankind in the coming years: it may lead to an antibiotic shortage and the eventual development of “superbugs” that will be able to resist medical antibiotics used on humans, according to Mother Jones. In short, your appetite for pork could eventually cause antibiotics to turn into placebos. As a reminder, superbugs are easily transferable from animals to humans.
“Demand for animal protein for human consumption is rising globally at an unprecedented rate,” the authors of the study write. “Modern animal production practices are associated with regular use of antimicrobials, potentially increasing selection pressure on bacteria to become resistant. Despite the significant potential consequences for antimicrobial resistance, there has been no quantitative measurement of global antimicrobial consumption by livestock.”
In layman’s terms: We are constantly pumping our animals full of antibiotics to keep up with worldwide demand, especially in middle-world countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, where animal antibiotic consumption is expected to increase by 67 percent in the next 15 years. However, according to recent analysis, the drugs are no longer making animals bigger.
The good news is consumers are developing a taste for antibiotic-free meat over medically pumped chickens.
Banish Infection With These 5 Powerful All-Natural Antibiotics
Since the discovery of antibiotics in the 1920s and the development of new products through the 1980s, it has become much harder for scientists to find new and effective antimicrobial products. This, combined with the growing problem of resistance development in the pathogens that make us sick, has created a major problem. Historically, humans used natural resources to combat bacterial infections, and these natural antibiotics are reemerging as a viable solution to antibiotic-resistant bugs that can’t be killed with pharmaceuticals.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change and become unaffected by prescription drugs and chemicals. It’s hard to believe bacteria can outsmart the antibiotics prescribed by doctors, but they have the amazing—and scary—ability to rapidly pump the antibiotic out of their bodies before it takes effect, or they can even mutate to build defenses against the drug.
Each time you take a round of antibiotics, especially when you don’t need it, you’re contributing to the spread of resistance by giving harmful bugs the opportunity to adapt to the drugs. And in addition to the bad bacteria, you are also killing off the good bacteria in your body, which can make it even more difficult for you to fight off infections in the future.
So how can you prevent antibiotic overkill and control the spread of resistance? Stick to using antibiotics only when necessary—that is, to treat serious, confirmed bacterial infections and certain life-threatening diseases. When you’re dealing with the common cold, ear aches, sore throats, respiratory conditions and toothaches, I recommend using “mother nature’s antibiotics,” which work just as effectively to reduce the harmful bacteria in your body, while also reducing inflammation and increasing the presence of good, protective bacteria. Here are the 5 most effective all-natural antibiotics.
1.) Oregano oil: Oregano oil is one of the most powerful antibacterial essential oils because it contains carvacrol and thymol, two antibacterial and antifungal compounds. In fact, research shows oregano oil is effective against many clinical strains of bacteria, including Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
To use oregano oil as a natural antibiotic, you can mix it with water or coconut oil. The dosage depends on the condition you’re treating, but remember to take only very small amounts at a time—about 1-2 drops. Make sure you’re using 100 percent therapeutic grade oil, and if you’re taking any medications, talk to your doctor about possible interactions. Also keep in mind that oregano oil should not be taken for more than 14 consecutive days.
2.) Manuka honey: Manuka honey is one of nature’s richest antimicrobial sources, and it has recently received even more attention because of its potential antibacterial activity.
Clinical studies have shown that Manuka honey can effectively inhibit multiple drug-resistant pathogens, indicating it has a broad spectrum of antibacterial capabilities unlike most antimicrobial agents. In addition, studies have shown that Manuka honey can disperse and kill bacteria that are living in biofilms, or communities of cells that are usually enclosed. This means Manuka honey can be used to prevent the growth of bacteria in wounds, mucosal surfaces and implanted devices.
To experience its benefits, take one to two tablespoons of Manuka honey per day. You can eat it straight or add the honey to yogurt, a smoothie or toast. Keep in mind, though, that heating it can alter its therapeutic properties. You can also apply Manuka honey topically to cuts and infections.
3.) Garlic: Chemical compounds in garlic, including allicin, have been proven to display antimicrobial activity and work to kill pathogens that are responsible for both common and rare infections. Garlic has been used for centuries to combat infectious diseases, and its antibacterial effects were first described in the mid-1800s.
Garlic’s antimicrobial properties are strongest when it’s raw. I recommend chopping or crushing a raw garlic clove and letting it sit for about 10 minutes before eating it, in order to release the enzymes that are converted into allicin. Start by eating about one clove of garlic every day to prevent bacterial infections. You can also find raw garlic in powder, oil, extract and tablet forms.
4.) Onions: Onions—a food often thrown into soups, stews and stir fries—contain powerful flavonoids that have antibiotic effects, and, like garlic, they contain therapeutic sulfur compounds called cysteine sulphoxides.
When using onions for their medicinal benefits, cut one open and let it sit for about 10 minutes to increase the phytonutrient content. Sauté sliced or chopped onions with coconut oil and mix them with raw garlic to help inhibit pathogens.
5.) Echinacea: Echinacea is a powerful immune system stimulator that can fight a number of infections, including those caused by bacteria. Additionally, when echinacea is taken as soon as symptoms develop, it can help cut the duration of illnesses that are sometimes treated with antibiotics.
Research shows that taking 10 milligrams of Echinacea per one kilogram of body weight daily for a 10-day period boosts the immune system and helps combat infections.
Bonus: Probiotics. Taking probiotics daily can reduce harmful, resistant bacteria and increase good bacteria in your gut. Research shows that taking probiotics can help boost your immune system, and they are especially important after you’ve taken antibiotics and need to replenish your good bacteria.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine.
‘Critically important’ antibiotic use soaring in UK farms
Worrying news has emerged that the use of fluoroquinolones, an antibiotic classed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as ‘critically important’, increased by 59% in the UK poultry industry in just one year. This is despite calls to urgently reduce antibiotic usage.
An investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed that this dramatic increase is leading to record levels of antibiotic resistance, which could leave us unable to treat life-threatening diseases caused by Campylobacter and Salmonella.
The crutch that props up factory farming
Antibiotics have been heavily abused in farming, in order to prevent intensively raised animals from getting sick in conditions which are prone to spreading bacteria. On factory farms, animals are often crowded, stressed, and frustrated, and it is common practice to treat the whole herd through their feed or water, without there being any signs of disease.
On the other hand, higher welfare systems which focus on disease prevention through good practice and only treat animals with signs of illness, do not abuse antibiotics, and are kinder to animals.
Urgent action needed
Emma Rose, the Campaigns, Communications and Lobbying specialist from The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics says, “The Government needs to follow the examples set in many other countries, like the United States, and ban all use of these antibiotics in poultry, as well as taking urgent action to reduce farm-use of other important antibiotics.
“Policy-makers are gathering in a few weeks in Brussels to vote on a proposal to ban routine, preventative mass medication of groups of animals in the EU. In the light of these findings, it is crucial that the UK Government support such a ban.”
What can I do?
EU Organic regulations forbid the purely preventative use of antibiotics on farm animals. Support higher-welfare systems by purchasing organic meat, eggs, and dairy where possible.
Email your MP now to tell the Government to listen to the evidence and stop the routine use of antibiotics.
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is an alliance of health, medical, environmental and animal welfare groups working to stop the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming. It was founded by Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and Sustain in 2009, and is supported by the Jeremy Coller Foundation.
Every time you sit down to a meal containing meat, eggs, or dairy products, you’re dining on known carcinogens, bacteria, and other contaminants that can accumulate in your body and remain there for years. Animal products are loaded with bacteria, antibiotics, hormones, dioxins, and a host of other toxins that can cause serious health problems in humans.
An extremely high percentage of all the flesh from the chickens, turkeys, cows, fish, and pigs butchered every year in the U.S. is contaminated with E. coli, campylobacter, listeria, or other dangerous bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts, flesh, and feces of animals.
Eating flesh contaminated with bacteria can cause food poisoning, with symptoms ranging from stomach cramps and diarrhea to organ failure and death. Every year in the U.S., there are 75 million cases of food poisoning, and 5,000 of these cases are fatal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 70 percent of food poisoning is caused by contaminated animal flesh.
To make matters worse, a major 2008 study published in the journal Nature found that a substance found in meat and milk (but not naturally found in the human body) causes humans who eat meat and milk to become more susceptible to dangerous E. coli infections. So eating meat is a double-whammy: It’s often laced with dangerous bacteria, and it makes you more likely to become infected by those bacteria.
The antibiotics that we depend on to treat food poisoning and other illnesses are being used to promote rapid growth in animals and to prevent them from dying from the diseases that are rampant on factory farms. This abuse of pharmaceuticals has encouraged the evolution of new strains of antibiotic-resistant super-bacteria.
Studies have found that much of the meat on grocery store shelves today is contaminated with these bacteria, which cannot be killed with conventional antibiotics. That means that if you eat meat tainted with these super-germs and become ill, many antibiotics that doctors rely on to treat infections will be less effective or even useless.
But that’s not the only danger associated with dosing animals raised for their flesh with antibiotics. Roxarsone, an antibiotic commonly used on factory farms, contains significant amounts of the most carcinogenic form of arsenic. USDA researchers have found that “[e]ating 2 ounces of chicken per day—the equivalent of a third to a half of a boneless breast—exposes a consumer to 3 to 5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic, the element’s most toxic form.” Daily exposure to low doses of arsenic can dramatically increase the risk of cancer, dementia, neurological problems, and other ailments in humans.
Dangerous hormones are also lurking in meat and milk. According to the USDA, by 1999, roughly 99 percent of cows on large feedlots in the U.S. were given synthetic hormonal implants. These hormones, which make cows grow larger and produce more milk than they would naturally, are prohibited for over-the-counter use by humans in the United States. Scientists have clearly shown that these hormones can increase the risk of disrupted development and cancer in humans.
The hormones in meat and milk can also increase the risk of developing other disorders, including gynecomastia, or enlarged male breasts. In one school in Italy, nearly one in three boys aged 3 to 5 and more than half of boys aged 6 to 10 were found to have enlarged breasts, and the hormones in meat were suspected to have caused the disorder. In spite of all this evidence of hormones’ harmful effects, the FDA refuses to adequately regulate their use for promoting growth in cows—when you eat meat from cows and drink milk, you are consuming potentially unsafe drugs that weren’t prescribed for you.
Some health-conscious consumers buy organic milk and organic beef because they think it’s hormone-free, but they are mistaken. Despite its label, “organic” meat from cows is often treated with hormones—when inspectors in the European Union randomly sampled “hormone-free” beef from the U.S., they found that 12 percent of the meat had been treated with powerful hormones that are banned in Europe. Because pregnant cows produce hormones naturally and cows used for their milk are kept constantly pregnant, even the milk of “organic” cows is still laced with sex hormones.
If the bacteria, antibiotics, and hormones don’t take their toll in the short term, the build-up of dioxins from animal products could cause serious health problems in the long run. Dioxins are chemicals that are released into the environment when substances are burned, and they accumulate in animals’ flesh and milk. According to leading scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 95 percent of our dioxin exposure comes in the concentrated form of meat, fish, and dairy products, because when we eat animal products, the dioxin that animals have built up in their bodies is absorbed into our own.
A powerful hormone-disrupting group of chemicals called “dioxins” binds to a cell and modifies its functioning, potentially causing a wide range of effects, including cancer, depressed immune response, nervous system disorders, miscarriages, and birth deformities. Researchers at the EPA have found that people who consume even small amounts of dioxins from meat and dairy products have an extra one in 100 risk of suffering from cancer—solely as a result of their dioxin consumption and on top of all other risks.
Pesticides are also present in large quantities in meat and have been linked to a wide range of health problems in humans, including birth defects and cancer. Although humans do ingest some herbicides and pesticides from plant foods, scientists report that animal products are responsible for roughly 80 to 90 percent of dietary pesticide exposure. Pesticides are sprayed on crops that are eventually fed to farmed animals, and like dioxins, pesticides accumulate in their bodies over time. When we eat the flesh, milk, or eggs of animals, the pesticides that they have eaten during their lives are transferred to us.
The best way to protect yourself from all the harmful contaminants in animal products is to simply go vegetarian —and it’s easier than you might think. Order your free “Vegetarian Starter Kit” today!
Other Health Risks of the Meat Industry
Animals on factory farms generate many times the amount of excrement produced by the entire U.S. population, and this waste pollutes the air we breathe and the water we drink. Every second, our nation’s factory farms create roughly 89,000 pounds of waste, which contains highly concentrated chemical and bacterial toxins—all without the benefit of waste-treatment systems. According to a contamination study conducted by Minnesota agricultural extension engineer John Chastain, “The data indicates that the pollution strength of raw manure is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage.”
This waste is usually dumped into sprawling brown lagoons to rot, or else it is sprayed over fields, allowing harmful chemicals and bacteria from the sewage to poison our air and water every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “[C]hemical and infectious compounds from swine and poultry waste are able to migrate into soil and water.” This untreated waste often sickens the people who work on or live near factory farms.
Toxic gases and bacteria from animal excrement enter the air and are distributed over a very wide area by the wind. When the cesspools that hold tons of animal urine and feces are full, factory farms frequently circumvent pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are spread by the wind.People for miles around are forced to inhale the toxins and pathogens from the sprayed manure and, as a result, can suffer health problems ranging from asthma and brain damage to birth defects and premature death.
People who live near factory farms face the constant threat that run-off from the farms will poison their waterways, bringing serious illness and even death to their communities. “The water in those areas is not in good shape, and the primary cause of the [pollution] is not septic tanks, treatment plants, or fertilizer—it’s manure, mainly from large farms,” said Robert Miltner, an aquatic biologist for the Environmental Protection Agency in Ohio.
A study found that a major river in Colorado has high levels of three antibiotics that are used exclusively in farmed animals.Outbreaks of E. coli closed half of Iowa’s beaches during the summer of 2001, and the water in Des Moines’ Raccoon River has nitrate levels that are almost double the limit allowed for drinking water. Large farms are implicated in both of these problems. In 2000, an E. coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario, left seven people dead—experts cite cow manure that seeped into the town’s water supply as a likely cause of the tragedy.
Scientists believe that 3.2 billion pounds of raw sewage from chicken farms on the Delmarva Peninsula caused an outbreak of pfiesteria in the Chesapeake Bay in 1997. The contamination killed 30,000 fish and caused memory loss, skin lesions, and respiratory problems in people who were exposed to the water.
How Factory Farms Affect Human Health
Factory farms and the contamination that they produce cause illnesses in humans that range from brain damage and depression to miscarriage and birth defects. They are also responsible for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and severe respiratory problems. Politicians and government agencies continue to ignore the growing threat that these farms pose to our health and to the environment because of the combination of powerful meat industry lobbyists in Washington, large campaign contributions from the meat and dairy industries to key legislators, and executive agencies (e.g., the U.S. Department of Agriculture) that hire meat and dairy industry representatives to fill crucial posts.
Brain Damage and Depression
Scientists have shown that there is a link between exposure to the toxic chemicals found in animal waste and the development of neurological problems, including brain damage and depression. According to University of Southern California toxicology professor Dr. Kaye H. Kilburn, the “coincidence of people showing a pattern of impairment and being exposed to hydrogen sulfide arising from lagoons where hog manure is stored and then sprayed on fields or sprayed into the air” has a “practically undeniable” connection to neurological disorders in communities around the farms.
In an investigative report published in The New York Times, Ohio resident Robert Thornell discussed the permanent brain damage that he suffered when a factory farm was built near his home. “It’s like I have a 2.1 gigahertz body with a 75 megahertz mind,” he said. “I feel like collateral damage.” When Thornell’s wife was also diagnosed with brain damage, the couple was forced to move away from their home in order to prevent further deterioration of their health.
Fumes from manure pits have also been linked to severe depression. In a speech at the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Kelley Donham, director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, cited numerous studies that found unusually high rates of depression and anxiety among people who live near factory farms. A North Carolina study also found high rates of depression and fatigue in the neighbors of a pig farm.
Miscarriage and Birth Defects
Living near a factory farm can be catastrophic for pregnant women. For example, the CDC believes that manure from a factory farm seeped into the groundwater of a small Indiana town and caused at least seven miscarriages.
A joint report by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture states that ingesting water with nitrate levels above 10 milligrams per liter can cause “blue baby” syndrome (methemoglobinemia), which is a condition that prevents blood from carrying oxygen and which can lead to “increased rates of stomach cancer, birth defects, miscarriage, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, reduced body growth and slower reflexes, and increased thyroid size.” According to the report, nitrate levels in a “manure lagoon” on a typical pig factory farm measure an incredible 300 milligrams per liter, which is a level that creates a substantial threat to families who drink from nearby water sources.
Animal waste emits ammonia, hydrogen sulfite, methane, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter from fecal dust. These irritants enter the lungs of anyone who is nearby and can cause serious respiratory illnesses.
A February 2002 study conducted by Iowa State University and the University of Iowa Study Group found that as many as 70 percent of U.S. factory farm workers suffer from acute bronchitis, and 25 percent battle chronic bronchitis. Even more disturbing, a recent University of Iowa study found that an astonishing 46 percent of children who live on pig factory farms with more than 500 pigs suffer from asthma. On factory farms where antibiotics are used as a growth stimulant, the asthma rate in children climbs to more than 55 percent.
Factory farm employees and people in the surrounding communities are frequently exposed to animal excrement and the dangerous bacteria it can carry—bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter.
On the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland, Dr. Ellen Silbergeld found that more than 40 percent of “chicken catchers” and more than 50 percent of processing plant workers were infected with campylobacter, a type of bacteria that causes diarrhea and abdominal pain and that can sometimes prove fatal. When a group of community members was tested for the bacterium, every person who was tested had a “positive” result.
Residents of a region known as “Feedlot Alley” in Alberta, Canada, have the highest rates of E. coli infections in the province, and E. coli killed almost a dozen children there in one three-year period. Dangerous germs from the excrement of farmed animals have sickened entire communities. A 1993 outbreak of cryptosporidium in Milwaukee sickened 403,000 people and killed 104 others. Scientists blamed the tragedy on animal excrement from nearby factory farms.
Factory farms are also breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are known as “supergerms.” On farms across America, the antibiotics that we depend on to treat human illnesses are now used to promote growth in animals and to keep them alive in horrific living conditions that would otherwise kill them. Countless new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria have developed as a result of this abusive practice.
Roughly 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States each year are given to animals who are used for food. What does this mean for you? It means that when you get sick, the antibiotics your doctor prescribes may no longer work.
Vancomycin, a drug that is known as a “last defense” in fighting the deadly blood infections and pneumonia caused by staphylococcus bacteria, is becoming obsolete because resistant strains have developed in farmed animals who are given the medicine as a growth stimulant. Similarly, the antibiotic used to treat campylobacter infections in humans is becoming worthless—even as these infection rates rise.
U.S. health officials declared a public health emergency on Sunday, April 26, 2009, in response to the swine-flu outbreak. Cases have been confirmed in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, and countries from Spain to New Zealand are investigating cases of the flu strain. There is speculation that the swine influenza originated on pig factory farms.
The science is clear: Eating animal-derived products is harming communities, public health, and the Earth. Request your free vegetarian/vegan starter kit now to start on the road to a healthy, sustainable diet.
The doughnut king cast out the trans fats in 2007, and it's been pushing the menu toward healthier options ever since—including the DDSmart Menu, which emphasizes the menu's nutritional champions. But DD still scored a D because of its unclear plans regarding when it will use antibiotic-free poultry. It might have gotten a higher grade in the report if it made public a timetable for going antibiotic-free with its meats, a plan announced but not yet scheduled.
Make the Smart Choice: Use the DDSmart Menu as a starting point, or stick to the sandwiches served on flatbread or English muffins. Beware: Beverages like Coolattas and souped-up coffee drinks can do even more damage than the food here, so keep your joe as plain as possible.
Eat This: Sugar Raised Donut and Ice Latte (small, with skim milk), 300 calories, 14 g fat (6 g saturated), 14 g sugar
Not That!: Sesame Seed Bagel with Plain Cream Cheese, 500 calories, 19.5 g fat (10 g saturated, .5 g trans fat), 880 mg sodium
The regulation of organic beef is the same as that of all organic livestock—standards that were established under the National Organic Program in 2000. Basically, it states that an organically raised animal must be fed 100% organic (pesticide- and chemical fertilizer-free) and vegetarian feed, have year-round access to the outdoors, space to move, and not be treated with antibiotics or hormones. In many ways, the organic label is pretty comprehensive, covering aspects of the animal's living conditions, as well as its general diet and wellness.
That said, there's still some wiggle room within these regulations. During the grazing season, for instance, it's mandatory that at least 30% of a steer or heifer's diet is pasture (fresh grass). But beyond that, there are no requirements for the amount of time it spends outside—outdoor access for the rest of the year could easily be limited to a small back area that it's never actually encouraged to visit. Organically raised cattle also may receive grain as part of their diet, and they're exempt from the grass-feeding minimum during the finishing period (the last fifth or so of their life, when they are fattened up prior to slaughter).
Antibiotic Usage in Meat Is Soaring Worldwide - Recipes
Raising healthy chickens is important to us, and we recognize that consumers want to better understand how their food is raised.
Chicken is America’s favorite protein for a reason. For decades, the chicken industry has evolved its products to meet ever-changing consumer needs and preferences. Protecting our animals’ health and wellbeing is where we start. Without healthy chickens our members would not be in business.
A veterinarian consults with a farmer
The use of antibiotics is one of many important tools in the treatment of human and animal disease. Preserving their effectiveness, both in humans and animals, is a responsibility we take seriously and work continuously with animal health companies, our farmers and our veterinarians to determine when an antibiotic is really needed.
We believe that providing a sustainable food supply will depend on our offering choices and a balanced approach to animal wellbeing. The amazing variety of chicken products today allows people to choose products that take into account many factors, including taste preference, personal values, affordability and chickens raised without antibiotics.
We understand that consumers have questions and concerns about how and why antibiotics are used to treat and prevent disease in livestock and poultry. We hope this information will help to answer those questions and address some of those concerns.
How is the chicken industry responding to updated FDA guidelines for antibiotic treatment of poultry and livestock?
All along, chicken producers have adhered to strict government regulations regarding antibiotic use, using antibiotics responsibly.
Chicken producers have proactively and voluntarily taken steps toward finding alternative ways to control disease while reducing antibiotic use phasing out those that most critical to human medicine. The industry has fully cooperated with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and many poultry and pharmaceutical companies are moving far in advance of regulatory deadlines for compliance. Two classes of antibiotics that FDA deems critically important to human medicine, especially for treating foodborne illness in humans—flouroquinolones and cephalosporins—have already been phased-out of chicken production for a number of years.
The industry also supports FDA’s proposed Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) that ensures that all antibiotics administered to food producing animals are only done so under the supervision and prescription of licensed veterinarians. In fully cooperating with FDA on these measures, both chicken producers and animal health companies continue to preserve the value and effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat human illness and decrease the resistance of foodborne pathogens.
The bottom line is that we’re all interested in doing the right thing. Not only are we all consumers, but chicken producers also have a vested interest in protecting the effectiveness of antibiotics, for the welfare of their animals. To do any differently would not make sense from a moral or business standpoint.
What is the common industry practice when it comes to administering antibiotics to chickens?
One of the most important and potentially devastating diseases we have in poultry is called coccidiosis, caused by coccidia – tiny little microscopic protozoa – that upset the normal gut environment of an animal and causes malabsorption of important nutrients and can result in unnecessary suffering or even death. Coccidia are common in puppies, kittens, young chickens and other animals – whether they’re raised outdoors, indoors, are a farm animal or a house pet.
Hear from veterinarians about current and future use of antibiotics in raising chickens.
There’s a class of antibiotics called ionophores and another group of medicines called non-antibiotic coccidiostats (not antibiotics) which are used to prevent this disease. They are not growth promoters and have no FDA-approved use for growth promotion. It is important to note that ionophores and non-antibiotic coccidiostats are not used in human medicine. Most chickens are given an ionophore or a non-antibiotic coccidiostat for an FDA-approved duration to prevent this intestinal disease, thus preventing the overuse of potentially medically important antibiotics in treatment of sick birds.
Are ionophores and non-antibiotic coccidiostats used to promote growth in chickens?
Ionophores and non-antibiotic coccidiostats are used to prevent disease in chickens and reduce the need for intensive medical treatment for fatal diseases. While FDA currently requires them to be labeled as “growth promotants,” when combined with an ideal living environment and nutritious feed, healthy chickens naturally grow to their full potential—all without the use of hormones and steroids (which have been prohibited under U.S. federal law for use in raising chickens for more than 50 years). Growth is a positive outcome of keeping chickens healthy and disease-free, and healthy birds improve product quality and food safety.
Why is this use necessary in raising chickens?
The top priority of farmers and chicken companies is to raise healthy chickens, because healthy chickens are directly related to a safe food supply.
There are responsible, approved standards of veterinary treatment that benefit animal welfare and human health by reducing the need for heavier doses of antibiotics later on in the process, in the event of widespread disease.
Much like a companion animal veterinarian would use de-worming compounds to prevent illness in a puppy (e.g. heartworm medication), chicken producers and veterinarians use compounds to prevent and treat disease in the birds they raise in the field. Waiting until the disease actually takes hold would pose animal welfare issues and likely reduce the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment. Treating animals that are clinically ill would require even greater use of antibiotics and, in many cases, those antibiotics used for treatment could be ones considered medically important for humans. Preventing the disease is prudent veterinary medicine – and the right thing to do.
Prevention of the disease prevents unnecessary suffering and prevents the overuse of potentially medically important antibiotics in treatment of sick birds.
Are antibiotics that are used in human medicine used for weight gain and growth promotion in chickens?
There is small percentage of antibiotics that are currently approved by FDA for use in livestock and poultry, which also have use in human medicine. Their primary use is not for weight gain or growth promotion, but to prevent a disease called necrotic enteritis – an infection in the bird’s intestine caused by the bacteria Clostridium. Along with coccidiois, necrotic enteritis is another of the two most potentially devastating bacterial diseases in modern broiler flocks. If not prevented, it can cause dehydration, loss of appetite, diarrhea and rapid death.
Both FDA and the World Health Organization (WHO) rank antibiotics relative to their importance in human medicine. The highest ranking is “critically important.” Antibiotics in this category are used sparingly to treat sick birds. Antibiotics in other less-important classes may be used in chicken production to maintain poultry health and welfare, including for disease prevention, control and treatment purposes.
Antibiotics themselves and their dosage rates have been approved by FDA. FDA approved dosage rate for disease prevention also has the benefit of growth promotion because healthy birds grow to their full potential.
While minimally used in raising chickens, by December 2016, antibiotics that are important to human medicine will be labeled for use in food animals only to address disease, and not to promote growth, and will be used exclusively under the supervision and prescription of a veterinarian. To date, FDA reports 31 affected products have been withdrawn from marketing or sale in the United States. In the closing months of this year, FDA will provide a six-month update on its progress.
What happens if birds get sick?
Just like people, animals get sick, and treating illness is a responsible part of animal care. Even if you have the best animal health plan, some chickens are going to be exposed to infections that can only be cured with antibiotics. Veterinarians have a responsibility to treat those animals in a responsible and targeted manner, for a limited duration under FDA-approved guidelines.
Who regulates the feed given to chickens?
Any ionophore, antibiotic or non-antibiotic coccidiostat must go through a rigorous approval process by the manufacturer and the FDA before being approved for use. USDA monitors withdrawal times of any medicine administered, ensuring that it is out of the animal’s system prior to slaughter.
Any feed mill that makes feed which contains an FDA-approved and regulated product, like an antibiotic, is subject to FDA authority and inspection. These mills keep detailed records of antibiotic use. The FDA can and does inspect the mills unannounced, any time they want. This is not new. The information is available to FDA and regulators, whenever they want to go see it. The feed mill data system is the repository of the information. Feed tickets on the other hand are mostly a way for the company to confirm to the farmer that a certain amount of feed was delivered and what was in it. The feed truck driver and farmer may not see each other, so the ticket serves as a way to relay more information about the feed delivered.
What are some common ionophores, antibiotics and non-antibiotic coccidiostats that are approved by the FDA to help keep chickens healthy?
- Bacitracin: is an antibiotic used to prevent necrotic enteritis in broilers, an infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium. Bacitracin is found most commonly as a topical preparation in human medicine, such as triple antibiotic ointments but is not used for any other purpose in humans. It is not on the list of antibiotics considered by the FDA as medically important in humans.
- Chlortetracycline: is a Tetracycline antibiotic that is primarily used in broilers for preventing and treating diseases. It will be phased out for growth promotion purposes in livestock and poultry under the FDA’s guidance plan.
- Decoquinate: is not an antibiotic. It is a non-antibiotic coccidiostat used in veterinary medicine for the control of coccidiosis, a debilitating protozoal infection in poultry. Decoquinate has no human usage.
- Diclazuril: is not an antibiotic. It is a non-antibiotic coccidiostat used in veterinary medicine for the control of coccidiosis, a debilitating protozoal infection in poultry. Diclazuril has no human usage.
- Naracin: is an ionophore used for the prevention of coccidiosis and has no human usage.
- Nicarbazin: is not an antibiotic. It is a non-antibiotic coccidiostat used for prevention and control of coccidiosis in broilers. When combined with naracin, makes the brand name product, “Maxiban.” Nicarbazin has no human usage.
- Monensin: is an ionophore used for the prevention of coccidiosis and has no human usage.
- Penicillin: is an antibiotic that is used very infrequently in broiler production. Its only use is to treat flocks that succumb to gangrenous dermatitis, another clostridial disease – which is uncommon, but has occurred at a low rate. Penicillin use has not been a standard practice for the purposes of growth promotion in broilers, but it will be phased out for growth promotion purposes in livestock and poultry under the FDA’s guidance plan.
- Robenedine Hydrochloride: is not an antibiotic. It is a non-antibiotic coccidiostat used in veterinary medicine for the control of coccidiosis, a debilitating protozoal infection in poultry. Robenedine has no human usage.
- Tylosin: is a Macrolide antibiotic that is used in veterinary medicine to prevent necrotic enteritis in broilers, an infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium. It is a medically important antibiotic and its use will be phased out for growth promotion purposes in livestock and poultry under the FDA’s guidance plan.
- Virginiamycin: is a Streptogramin antibiotic used strategically to prevent necrotic enteritis, an infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium. It is a medically important antibiotic and its use will be phased out for growth promotion purposes in livestock and poultry under the FDA’s guidance plan.
Are there antibiotics in the chicken I eat?
No – all chicken meat is “antibiotic-free.” If an antibiotic is used on the farm, federal rules require the antibiotics to have cleared the animals’ systems before they can be slaughtered. For approved antibiotics, FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have extensive monitoring and testing programs to make sure that food at the grocery store does not contain antibiotic residues.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Some bacteria possess the natural genetic capability to survive in the presence of certain antibiotics, and exposure to such antibiotics results in a natural selection favoring those bacteria, which then become predominant. In simple terms, in the face of a threat to survival, some bacteria put up their best defenses. Other bacteria are naturally resistant to certain antibiotics.
Is antibiotic use in chicken production creating “Superbugs?”
As the Food and Drug Administration (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. Most recently, the strains of Salmonella Heidelberg associated with the outbreak on the West Coast were sensitive to the most commonly recommended and prescribed antibiotics used to treat infections with Salmonella. Health care providers for the people who were ill had the most common antibiotics used to treat foodborne illnesses available to them and they remain effective.
For those antibiotics that are FDA-approved for use in raising chickens, the majority of them are not used in human medicine and therefore do not represent any threat of creating resistance in humans. While minimally used in raising chickens, by December 2016, antibiotics that are important to human medicine will be labeled for use in food animals only to address disease and to be used exclusively under the supervision of a veterinarian.
What does the CDC say about the current state of antibiotic resistant threats in the U.S.?
While the poultry industry is taking steps to ensure the appropriate use of antibiotics, the CDC continues to point to the overreliance on antibiotics in human medicine as the leading cause of bacterial antibiotic resistance. The CDC has also stated that most acute problem with antimicrobial resistance is with hospitals, and the most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings, because of poor antimicrobial stewardship among humans.
The recent CDC report “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013” used three threat levels to rank 18 bacteria-specific resistance threats that, collectively, comprise the public health problem referred to as antibiotic resistance. Each of these 18 was examined in detail, including potential sources of those antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In only two of the threats – Campylobacter and non-typhoidal Salmonella – does CDC list food animals as a potential source of antimicrobial resistance. All others are unrelated to food animals. Much of the public discourse combines the 16 community- and hospital-acquired pathogens with food animals, which diverts attention from devoting more needed resources to monitoring, surveillance and risk mitigation.
Still, by December 2016, antibiotics that are important to human medicine will be labeled for use in food animals only to prevent, control or treat disease and to be used exclusively under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Could the use of these drugs to keep chickens healthy and prevent disease lead to antibiotic resistance in humans?
The issue of antibiotic resistance is very complex, and it’s not black and white.
We know antibiotic resistance can emerge in animals and can transfer to humans, sometimes making them sick. The question is: How does this happen? And more importantly: How can we prevent it? Chicken producers have several programs and layers of protection in place to prevent antibiotic resistance from emerging in animals and transferring to humans, including: a stringent FDA drug review process strictly regulated withdrawal times for those drugs Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans which provide a scientific method of identifying and preventing food safety hazards and managing risk strict and continual monitoring residue checks and surveillance programs. All of these are designed to prevent antibiotic resistance from happening.
Several scientific, peer-reviewed risk assessments (that measure what does happen) demonstrate that resistance that is emerging in animals and transferring to humans does not happen in measurable amounts, if at all.¹
Still, chicken producers are phasing out subtherapeutic or “growth uses” of antibiotics important to treating humans.
It is important to note that antibiotic resistance is a characteristic of bacteria, not chickens or people. So, what can transfer between people and animals are antibiotic resistant bacteria, not antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a universal phenomenon in bacteria. To say that an antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria was isolated from a person or flock is almost meaningless. Rather, it is normal, regardless of antibiotic use.
Some poultry companies never use antibiotics that are used in human medicine, unless to treat sick birds. Why don’t all companies do this?
Chicken companies are in the business of providing choice. The amazing variety of chicken products today allows people to choose products that take into account many factors, including taste preference, personal values and affordability. Finding ways to raise chickens without any antibiotics is the latest example of an industry committed to innovation, producing a wide range of chicken products for a wide range of consumers.
The administration of antibiotics is only one FDA-approved tool to keep chickens healthy. It is not a silver bullet. Companies use a variety of management tools to keep birds healthy including: more individualized nutrition plans to promote stronger gut health better vaccination programs ionophores and non-antibiotic coccidiostats to prevent coccidia infection barns with better air circulation and temperature controls for year-round comfort and additional training programs and education efforts for farmers and service technicians. But even still, some flocks get sick and there is a necessary time to treat these birds with antibiotics.
A “raised without antibiotics” label is typically only one of a company’s product lines. Some flocks on a no antibiotic program may get sick, just like other flocks, and some have to be treated with antibiotics. These flocks that have been treated with antibiotics are no longer eligible to be marketed as “raised without antibiotics.” This is something most people do not understand. A no antibiotics program is not some magical program for producing disease-free birds. Rather, it’s a program which intends to raise birds without antibiotics and labels those which are successfully raised without antibiotics as “raised without antibiotics.” Those chickens that must be treated with antibiotics are labeled with another designation.
Why not just ban the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry?
First, this would have a detrimental effect on the health and welfare of the animals. Second, using antibiotics in targeted ways to prevent disease is key to minimizing antibiotic use overall. Antibiotic use policies in Europe and Denmark, for example, have demonstrated that banning low doses of antibiotics to promote growth has resulted in more widespread illness in farm animals as well as the increased use of antibiotics to treat sick animals.²³ Ultimately, there has been no demonstrable improvement in public health.
I read that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in America are given not to people, but to farm animals. Is that true?
Eighty percent of antibiotics are consumed by farm animals but nearly one half (45 percent) of that total are animal-only antibiotics and belong to classes not used in human medicine, like ionophores. In addition, the differences in the amounts consumed are completely expected when comparing the size of the two populations, Americans at 307 million vs. animals at: 8.2 billion chickens/year (plus broiler breeders), 295 million laying hens, 270 million turkeys (plus turkey breeders), 88 million head of cattle, 66 million head of swine, 5 million head of sheep and 2.8 million head of goats. In fact, when both populations (humans vs. food-producing animals) are compared on a body weight basis, humans consume 10 times more antibiotics per unit of body weight than farm animals (Barber, D.A., 2001. JAVMA, 218 (10): 1559-1561).
The FDA has repeatedly said that one cannot draw definite conclusions from any direct comparisons between the quantity of antibiotics sold for use in humans and the quantity sold for use in animals.
Are veterinarians on the farm at all times?
All chicken farms are under a health program designed by a licensed veterinarian. The way the system works is that veterinarians train technicians to implement the program, recognize signs of sickness and disease, perform necropsies (bird autopsies) on the birds if needed, take and deliver blood and fecal samples to the veterinarian, recognize lesions and then communicate all of that the veterinarian. The veterinarian cannot be on every farm at all times, but the technician is on the farm to work with the farmer once or twice every week. They are the eyes and ears for the veterinarian. The use of technology, tablets and smart phones to take videos, text pictures, etc. aids the technician to remain in constant contact with the veterinarian.
Does the FDA track antibiotic resistance?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 14, 2014 released its National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) 2011 Executive Report, showing mostly decreasing antimicrobial resistance trends.
The annual NARMS Executive Report focuses on resistance to antibiotics that are considered important in human medicine as well as multidrug resistance (described as resistance to three or more classes of antibiotics), according to the FDA. Under the NARMS program, samples are collected from human, food producing animals and retail meat sources, and tested for certain bacteria, specifically non-typhoidal Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli and Enterococcus, to determine whether such bacteria are resistant to various antibiotics used in human and veterinary medicine.
- Eighty-five percent of non-typhoidal Salmonella collected from humans, which includes Heidelberg, Hadar, Typhimurim, and Enteritidis serotypes, had no resistance to any of the antibiotics tested. (Non-typhoidal Salmonella refers to one of the 2,300 serotypes of Salmonella except for Typhi, Paratyphi A, Paratyphi B (tartrate negative) and Paratyphi C.)
- During its 16-year history, NARMS has found Salmonella resistance to ciprofloxacinto be very low (less than 0.5% in humans, less than 3% in retail meat, and less than 1% in animals at slaughter). Ciprofloxacin, one of the most common antibiotics to treat Salmonella infections in humans, belongs to a group of drugs called fluoroquinolones which were ceased for use in poultry in 2005.
- Multi-drug resistance in Salmonella from humans and slaughtered chickens was the lowest since NARMS testing began.
- Resistance to erythromycin, the antibiotic of choice to treat Campylobacter infections, in Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni) has remained at less than 4% in isolates obtained from humans, retail chicken and slaughtered chicken since testing began.
This data provides a strong case that the continued responsible use of antibiotics by poultry and livestock producers is aiding in the reduction of resistance in various foodborne pathogens. And, equally as important, that first-line antibiotics remain effective in treating foodborne illnesses.
1. Hurd, H.S., Doores, S., Dermot, H, Mathew, A., Maurer, J., Silley, P., Singer, R.S., and Jones, R.N.2004. Public Health Consequences of Macrolide Use in Food Animals: A Deterministic Risk Assessment. Journal of Food Protection.
Hurd, H.S., Malladi, S. 2008. A Stochastic Assessment of the Public Health Risks of theUse of Macrolide Antibiotics in Food Animals. Risk Analysis.
Cox, A., Popken, D.A., Mathers, J.J. 2009. Human Health Risk Assessment of Penicillin/Amino-penicillin Resistance in Enterococci Due to Penicillin Use in Food Animals. Risk Analysis.
Cox, A., Popken, D.A., Carnevale, R. 2007. Quantifying Human Health Risks from Animal Antimicrobials. Interfaces.
Wassenaar, T.M. 2005. Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Veterinary Medicine and Implications for Human Health. Critical Reviews in Microbiology.
Cox, A., Popken, D.A. 2009. Assessing Potential Human Health Hazards and Benefits from Subtherapeutic Antibiotics in the United States: Tetracyclines as a Case Study. Risk Analysis.
3. Phillips, Ian. 2007. Withdrawal of growth-promoting antibiotics in Europe
and its effects in relation to human health. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.
Antibiotic Use in Food Animals Continues to Rise
U.S. sales of medically important antibiotics approved for use in livestock rose by 23 percent between 2009 and 2014, federal regulators said on Thursday, fueling concerns about risks to humans from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Last year, domestic sales and distribution of such drugs increased by 3 percent, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Public health advocates, along with some lawmakers and scientists, have criticized the long-standing practice of using antibiotics in livestock, arguing that it is fueling the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Agribusinesses defend the practice as necessary to help keep cattle, pigs and chickens healthy and to increase production of meat for U.S. consumers.
&ldquoDangerous overuse of antibiotics by the agricultural industry has been on the rise at an alarming rate in recent years, putting the effectiveness of our life-saving drugs in jeopardy for people when they get sick," said Avinash Kar, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
It was not clear from the FDA report which antibiotics were used on various animals, why and in what volume.
The FDA in 2013 released voluntary guidelines for drug makers and agricultural companies to phase out antibiotic use as a growth enhancer in livestock. The agency said the antibiotics could still be used to treat illnesses in animals raised for meat, but should otherwise be pared back by December 2016 under a program to keep them out of the human food supply.
"Sales does not equal use and use is not the same thing as resistance," said Ron Phillips, spokesman for the Animal Health Institute, which represents drug companies including Zoetis, Merck Animal Health and Eli Lilly and Co's Elanco Animal Health.
"FDA also tracks resistance pathogens in humans, animals and meats," he said, "and those trends have been largely encouraging."
How can antibiotics given to animals create drug-resistant germs?
If you get an antibiotic prescription from your doctor, you'll be warned to take every single one of the pills exactly as prescribed. That's because the last few pills mop up the most drug-resistant germs. If you take too low a dose, the most resistant germs remain.
The same thing happens in animals. Veterinarians treat sick animals with appropriate doses of antibiotics.
But when antibiotics are used to make animals grow faster, they are given at low doses over long periods of time. That's a recipe for growing drug resistant bacteria in food animals.
Can drug-resistant bacteria in food animals find their way to humans?
There are some researchers, such as an expert panel of the Institute of Food Technologists, who say the odds are low that any of these bugs will find their way into humans. But in testimony before Congress, the USDA, the FDA, and the CDC all said that the use of antibiotics in food animals leads to infections with drug resistant bacteria to humans.
And in a letter to Congress, 14 health groups -- including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics -- said "overuse and misuse of important antibiotics in food animals must end, in order to protect human health."
The World Health Organization has also warned that overuse of antibiotics in food animals can lead to drug-resistant infections in people.
The Bottom Line
Fast food burgers aren't the unhealthiest meals on the planet. It's fine to enjoy a drive-thru bun once in a while, but it's when you make those trips more frequently and tack on other toppings that the meal itself becomes unhealthy. Fast food chains, such as Wendy's and McDonald's, have vowed to reduce their use of antibiotics on meat, but until government agencies enforce regulations against the injudicious use of antibiotics on meat, consider making your own hamburger at home with organic, grass-fed beef. And if you're craving a bite of a Big Mac without too much guilt, you can always omit the special sauce and pair the burger with a side salad to add more satiating fiber to your meal.