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Chicken factories dose flocks with antibiotics that may produce bacteria superbugs

Antibiotic resistance

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(NaturalNews) An investigation by Reuters reveals that the practice of using antibiotics in poultry feed expands much further than government officials had previously thought. Investigators reviewed hundreds of pages of "feed tickets," documents issued by feed mills to chicken factories owned by six major poultry companies over the past two years.

The feed tickets list the names and grams per ton of each "active drug ingredient" in a shipment of feed, specifying which stage in the chicken's six-week life the food is intended for, according to the report.

The feed tickets reviewed by Reuters only account for a small fraction of the tens of thousands issued annually by poultry producers. About 10 percent of the feed tickets studied listed antibiotics commonly used to treat people, many of which are deemed medically important to humans.

Five companies, Tyson, Pilgrim's, Perdue, George's and Koch, are administering low doses of antibiotics in their standard feeds. It was discovered that George's and Koch are using drugs that belong to the same class of antibiotics used to treat human infections, a practice that's legal but doesn't come without scrutiny from scientists and health officials.

Administering the drugs in frequent sub-therapeutic doses kills weaker bacteria, enabling the strongest to survive, multiply and potentially develop into superbugs, scientists say. Superbugs that develop cross-resistances to medically important antibiotics pose a huge risk for humans.

Dangers of antibiotic-fed livestock known for over 35 years

"These are not targeted uses aimed at specific bugs for defined duration. They're multiple, repeat shotgun blasts that will certainly kill off weaker bugs and promote the stronger, more resistant ones," said Keeve Nachman, director of the food production and public health program at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The dangers of using drugs on farm animals has been on the record since at least 1976 when microbiologist Stuart Levy demonstrated that potentially deadly bacteria in poultry were becoming resistant to tetracyclines and other antibiotics, creating resistant E. coli, among other bacteria, that moved from animals to people.

It was then that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried to restrict the use of drugs, but the agency was met with resistance from the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries, which viewed using low levels of drugs as a way to produce meat faster and cheaper.

The use of antibiotics for poultry began around 1940 after scientists learned that drugs like penicillin, streptomycin and chlortetracycline help ward off widespread disease in chickens. The drugs also kept the bird's digestive tracts healthy, which contributed to weight gain without increasing the animals' feed.

U.S. spends $34 billion a year on combating drug-resistant infections

Today, 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to farm animals -- an astounding number, and something to think about next time you order that non-organic chicken sandwich or cheeseburger.

Nearly 400 different antibiotic-containing meds are approved to treat sickness, thwart disease and promote growth in livestock, but only 7 percent of drugs have been reviewed by the FDA for their role in creating superbugs, according to Reuters' data analysis.

To provide you perspective on how serious this issue really is, earlier this year the World Health Organization called antibiotic resistance "a problem so serious it threatens the achievements of modern medicine."

Each year, about 430,000 people in the U.S. fall ill from foodborne bacteria that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, according to a July report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC). More than 2 million are sickened each year in the U.S. with antibiotic-resistant infections, with 23,000 of those cases resulting in death.

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