Poultry that are not fed antibiotics have much fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria


The turkey recall I recently blogged about has focused a spotlight on the issue of antibiotic resistance, as evidenced by the recent widespread news coverage of a new study showing that poultry farmers who stop giving their birds antibiotics reduce the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their flocks.  

image courtesy Will Merydith, via Flickr

Here’s a pithy description of the study from a Washington Post blog:

In the new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, Amy Sapkota of the University of Maryland School of Public Health and colleagues studied 10 conventional farms and 10 farms that had recently become organic in 2008. They tested for the presence of a bacteria known as enterococci in poultry litter, feed and water and for whether the organisms were resistant to 17 commonly used drugs.

All the farms tested positive for the bacteria. But the farms that had recently become organic had significantly lower levels of resistance. For example, 67 percent of enterococcus faecalis from conventional farms were resistant to the drug erythromycin compared to 18 percent of the organisms from the organic farms. Forty-two percent of the bacteria from conventional farms were resistant to multiple drugs, compared to only 10 percent from the organic farms.

The basic concept here is not new.  Just last year a study showed that chicken raised organically—on farms where antibiotics are prohibited—had less Salmonella than chicken from conventional livestock facilities, and far less of the Salmonella was resistant to antibiotics.  And a study done as far back as 1976 demonstrated that the addition of antibiotics to poultry feed had significant impacts on levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the fecal samples of both the birds and humans working on the farm and that removal of the antibiotics showed dramatic reduction in the level of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farm workers.

All these studies only emphasize the need for urgent FDA action to curtail the indiscriminate and widespread use of antibiotics on healthy animals, as recently urged in the wake of the turkey recall by several members of Congress, including Rep. Slaughter, the lone microbiologist in Congress, who has introduced a bill in the House to curb such use.