Environmental Issues: Food and Agriculture
Foster Farms Spread Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria around the Nation, Sickening Hundreds
- By spreading antibiotic resistant bacteria to our communities and kitchens, Foster Farms has contributed to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
- Health experts warn that overuse of antibiotics by both humans and livestock now threatens the effectiveness of these essential medicines for treating sick people.
- NRDC calls on Foster Farms to help keep antibiotics working for people by disclosing its antibiotics use and publicly committing to only use medically important antibiotics to treat sick birds and never for routine, nontherapeutic purposes.
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked Foster Farms, the sixth largest chicken producer in the country and the largest chicken company in the Western U.S., to an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. According to the CDC, 524 people from 25 states and Puerto Rico have become ill since March 2013. However, based on CDC estimates of Salmonella infection underdiagnosis rates, the outbreak may have sickened more than 15,000 people. Nearly 40 percent of those infected had to be hospitalized -- double the typical rate -- and 13 percent developed blood infections. By spreading antibiotic resistant bacteria to our communities and kitchens, Foster Farms has contributed to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance and threatening our health.
Scientists agree that when antibiotics are used routinely to raise farm animals, resistant bacteria can breed and spread. Health experts warn that overuse of antibiotics by both humans and livestock now threatens the effectiveness of these essential medicines for treating sick people. Unfortunately, Foster Farms mostly keeps its antibiotic use secret, so consumers have little information about which antibiotics are being given to its birds and why. Well-managed facilities, not antibiotics, are key to promoting flock health. NRDC is asking Foster Farms to disclose their antibiotics use and publicly commit to using medically important antibiotics only to treat sick birds and never for non-therapeutic purposes like growth promotion, routine disease prevention, or injection into chicken eggs.
Dangerous bacteria have been found on Foster Farms chicken
In the recent outbreak, five Foster Farms chicken samples from ill people's homes and a store were identified as contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg. Four of these five chicken samples were contaminated with Salmonella resistant to at least one antibiotic. Clinical samples from 61 patients in the outbreak were tested and over half were infected by a Salmonella resistant to at least one commonly prescribed antibiotic. The CDC noted that people infected with the outbreak strains may face increased risk of hospitalization.
This is not the first time Foster Farms has put our health at risk
This is the second Salmonella outbreak traced to Foster Farms in a year and a half, and the third in the last ten years. According to the CDC, 134 people were infected with a strain of Salmonella Heidelberg between May 2012 and April 2013; 31 percent were hospitalized. Official investigations pointed to Foster Farms chicken as "the most likely source of this outbreak." In 2004, an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections was also linked to Foster Farms. In 2013 alone, USDA inspections of Foster Farms chicken plants in California found multiple violations of rules protecting public health, including 56 instances of fecal material on carcasses.
Foster Farms' statements suggest the company relies on antibiotics
Although Foster Farms' website says the company does not use antibiotics for growth promotion, other statements by company officials suggest that the company relies on antibiotics to keep its flocks alive. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Chief veterinarian Robert O'Connor said that Foster Farms uses antibiotics as a preventative measure against illness in its poultry barns and CEO Ron Foster said that without antibiotics his flock would likely get sick, and even die.
It's time for Foster Farms to come clean on antibiotics
Just as people don't generally take antibiotics to avoid getting sick, neither should farm animals. Poultry producers can and should rely on improved sanitation, reduced crowding, better breeding, vaccinations, improved nutrition and other best practices. NRDC calls on Foster Farms to help keep antibiotics working for people by disclosing its antibiotics use and publicly committing to only use medically important antibiotics to treat sick birds and never for routine, nontherapeutic purposes.
last revised 5/1/2014