Perdue Stops Using Antibiotics In Chicken Hatcheries

There’s some good news for a change for those concerned about the rampant use of antibiotics in animal feed. Perdue, the nation’s most well-known chicken producer claims that 95% of its chickens will now be antibiotic-free (sort of) after removing all antibiotics from chicken hatcheries.

For decades, antibiotics have been used in animal feed not because they prevent disease, but because they promote growth in the animals consuming the drugs. Unfortunately, the over-use of these antibiotics has helped to give rise to new, drug-resistant pathogens.

Perdue says it stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion in 2007, and that it has been working for five years to remove antibiotics from its hatcheries. However, Perdue does still employ an antibiotic for prevention of an intestinal parasite, but says the drug is one that is only used in animals.

So that “95%” number is really referring to the 95% of chickens that will not receive antibiotics that are also used on humans. There will still be the occasional use of those drugs for treatment and control of disease, which is why the number is not 100%.

Even so, the Perdue policy — if accurate — is significantly more stringent than the weak-kneed, non-binding guidance that the FDA gave to the drug industry last December. That guidance only asks that drug makers — who sell 80% of their antibiotics in the U.S. to livestock farmers — pretty please stop selling antibiotics for non-medical use. Most companies have agreed to this guidance, but there is little to stop farmers from merely changing the reason they want to buy a drug from “it helps my pigs get big” to “it helps my pigs stay healthy.”

The folks at Keeping Antibiotics Working say Perdue’s announcement is an important step in the right direction.

“The action in the hatcheries is particularly important as antibiotic use there has been clearly linked to resistance in the treated birds and to resistance in sick humans,” reads a statement from the group which has advocated for restrictions on non-medical use of antibiotics.

One way that Perdue can improve its policy even further is by being transparent about the actual amount of drugs being provided to its birds going forth.

“We strongly encourage Perdue to publicly report on the amount and type of antibiotics used in its poultry as a concrete measure of the impact of the policy,” writes KAW. “We also strongly encourage other companies to adopt a similar policy to reduce antibiotic use on their farms.”

Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that the current level of antibiotic use in animal feed is “simply not sustainable if we want to preserve their uses in human medicine. I hope Perdue’s actions foreshadow changes across the industry, and embolden regulators to prohibit the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.”

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