Reuters: "Documents reveal how poultry firms systematically feed antibiotics to flocks"

An in-depth investigation by Reuters, published today, confirms that the U.S. chicken industry is still reliant on a steady stream of antibiotics.  

Did we already know that?  Yes, and no.  FDA tracks total sales of antibiotics approved for livestock use, so we know that the livestock industry uses about 80% of all the antibiotics sold in the U.S.  And there’s lots of evidence that poultry production is a significant user (see, for example, NRDC’s Pharming Chicken issue brief).

But the Reuters investigation provides an unprecedented analysis of industry “feed tickets”  -- the typically-secret industry documents that describe the medications added to chicken feed  -- to show specific drug uses at most of the major chicken companies.  The finding:  “Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.”

Foster Farms again refuses to fully divulge antibiotic use practices
NRDC is campaigning to get Foster Farms to disclose its use of antibiotics and commit to safe use practices so naturally we were reading the Reuter’s piece closely for information about the company.  Foster Farms was recently linked to an outbreak of antibiotic resistant Salmonella, which officially ended in July, and the company has consistently refused to respond to our requests to discuss the issue.  Sure enough, Foster Farms also refused to provide detailed information to Reuters, although the company did acknowledge some use of two medically important antibiotics that were also among those reported to be resisted by the outbreak strain of Salmonella.   A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson quoted in the article said that use of the drugs could have contributed to the antibiotic resistance seen in the outbreak.

Foster Farms reports that it has made substantial progress in reducing Salmonella on its chicken and now claims to exceed industry averages for Salmonella contamination.  That sounds like good news.  But we’re still not hearing much from Foster Farms about why so many of the Salmonella tested during the outbreak were antibiotic resistant and if Foster Farms is making changes to its antibiotic use practices to avoid further spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria of any type.

FDA tested only 7% of approved antibiotics for risk of spreading resistant bacteria
Another Reuter’s analysis finds that only 7% of approved antibiotics were tested by FDA for their potential to breed antibiotic resistant bacteria or “superbugs”.  Research previously published by NRDC in January 2014, shows that when FDA scientists did review a limited number of approved livestock antibiotics, they found the majority to pose a “high risk” for exposing humans to drug-resistant bacteria. 

Hopefully today’s news will help push FDA and state agencies to effectively limit non-therapeutic antibiotic use and insist on antibiotic use reporting so we can all have better information about drug use in the chicken industry.