A report from Reuters claims that U.S. poultry companies are giving their flocks antibiotics more than regulators realize, leading to risks to human health. The news service claims 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,” the report states.

The companies investigated in the report were Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods. Reuters obtained more than 320 “feed tickets,” which document the feed that is made to each company’s specifications. The tickets list the names and grams per ton of each “active drug ingredient” in a batch of feed, specifying the FDA-approved purpose of each medication.

For more information, read the report (http://news.yahoo.com/poultry-firms-systematically-feed-low-dose-antibiotics-flocks-140248290.html).

In response, the National Chicken Council issued a statement saying that the article was an opportunity to reiterate the fact 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 recognize 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 today to a Reuters article 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," Peterson said. 

Only about 10 percent 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 labeled for use in food animals only to prevent and treat disease, under the supervision and care of a veterinarian," Peterson continued.  "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," 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.

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, Peterson took contention with the story's repeated use of the term "Superbugs."  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."

Reuters also failed to point out that according to the most recent FDA data, 85 percent 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. 

Source: Reuters, National Chicken Council