Chicken Producers Using Antibiotics

Several decades ago, the livestock and poultry industries found that sub-therapeutic levels of these antibiotics could improve production and efficiency. The animals that were dosed tended to grow fast, putting on at least 3 percent more weight than the animals that were untreated. They began to dose their stock with Tetracycline and similar medications, but the evidence reveals that there may be some unintended consequences as a result.

Baytril is one of the antimicrobials in question but is used differently. Chicken and other poultry producers use Baytril to combat E. coli in the chickens, turkey and other poultry they raise. It is designed to help prevent outbreaks of infection and keep the flocks healthier rather than for weight gain. Baytril is closely related to Cipro, an antimicrobial that is often used to treat salmonella and other bacterial infections as well as anthrax, but scientists are concerned that the overuse of this antibiotic is leading to bacterial changes. As the bacteria adapt, the medication no longer works. This could lead to the fast, uncontrolled spread of disease. Other animals that are affected include cows and pigs. As much as 20 percent of ground meat in our food supply is tainted with salmonella, and a substantial percentage of the tainted meat has antibiotic-resistant strains.

According to some experts, the medications are killing normal gut flora. This allows them to gain weight more rapidly, but it also brings risks to humans. Chronic dosing as performed by poultry and livestock producers has been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans and other potentially serious health problems. Canada and many countries in the European Union have already banned the practice, citing growing concerns about resistant strains of bacteria, but the practice remains common in the U.S. The World Health Organization has recommended that the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic purposes be phased out in food animals and recommends overhauling current food policy in the future. The drugs can and should continue to be used to treat sick animals.

The meat industry stands by the continued use of antimicrobials for both treatment and growth stimulation. While they do not deny that antibacterial resistance is a growing concern or that low levels of drugs can get into the end product, they argue that the link has not yet been proven. The company also expresses concerns that increased animal disease could lead to reduced food chain safety and would be of little real benefit to humans while creating potentially serious economic problems for poultry and other meat producers.