September 16, 2014

Antibiotics on the Farm: Feed Tickets Tell All

Keeve Nachman

Keeve Nachman

Program Director, Food Production and Public Health

Center for a Livable Future

Which antibiotics are these guys being fed?

Which antibiotics are they eating?

A Reuters story, published yesterday, broke some news about the poultry industry, its dangerous misuse of antibiotics, and the mistruths propagated by industry leaders. Unfortunately, what the reporters uncovered is not that surprising—but it is alarming. Read the article, “Documents reveal how poultry firms systematically feed antibiotics to flocks,” to find out exactly what the reporters’ analysis of “feed tickets” reveals—in short, a notable discrepancy between what the poultry companies tell consumers they are feeding their chickens and what the documents indicate. Feed tickets are documents created by the feed mills that produce chicken feed to the chicken company’s specs; the tickets list names and amounts of each “active drug ingredient” in a batch of feed, and sometimes disclose the purpose of each medication.

Feed tickets are a valuable source of data that would be useful to any agency or researcher examining the connection between antibiotic resistance and agricultural feed practices. Why does it take investigative reporters collecting 320 documents over the course of two years to give us data that the government could have for the taking? The article refers to the tickets as containing “confidential information” that extends “well beyond what the U.S. government knows.” The data are there if the government wants to seek them out. And shouldn’t the public have full access to these data, too?Ideally, the FDA would use the data to research and regulate. At the very least, the agency should be using them to determine if the poultry industry is telling the truth about its practices.

Recently, Perdue Chicken announced that it would stop using “human antibiotics” in its eggs. I wrote a blogpost questioning the depth of Perdue’s resolution and the impact it might—or might not—have on the larger antibiotic-resistance problem.

Image by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.

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