Organic Poultry Farms Brew Profoundly Fewer Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Chickens at One Straw Farm, Hereford, Md.

Today, Environmental Health Perspectives published an important study showing that the removal of antibiotic use on poultry farms results, quickly and dramatically, in a reduction of antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus. The study, led by Amy Sapkota of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, investigated the impact of removing antibiotics from U.S. poultry farms by studying ten conventional and ten newly organic large-scale poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. They tested for the presence of enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed, and water, and tested its resistance to 17 common antimicrobials, most of them critically important in treating human infections.

Sapkota’s research was funded in part by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), and it validates the trend underway among some poultry farms—converting from conventional to organic methods. Sapkota, who earned a doctorate in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public School and once served as the CLF research director, said, “We initially hypothesized that we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices. But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock that was produced after the transition to organic standards.” Read More >

Ban On Arsenicals Is Common Sense

Today’s announcement by U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introducing legislation to ban the use of the arsenical compound roxarsone once again shines the spotlight on the all-too common practice of the unnecessary use of antimicrobial drugs in industrial animal production.

“American consumers simply shouldn’t have to ingest this arsenic compound when they sit at the kitchen table,” said Rep. Israel.  “There’s a reason some major poultry producers have stopped using it – it can only cause environmental and health problems. With cancer levels on the rise we need to be vigilant about the sources of health problems, and that means banning roxarsone.”

The bill (H.R. 3624), known as the “Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009,” would prohibit all uses of roxarsone as a food additive in animals.

What is roxarsone and why should we be concerned about its use?  Roxarsone is an arsenical antimicrobial drug used extensively in poultry and swine production to combat intestinal parasites, speed growth and improve pigmentation. Some large poultry integrators have reported voluntarily withdrawing roxarsone from feed regimens, although I am unaware of efforts to validate these claims. Further, I am unaware of similar voluntary withdrawals from swine producers. Federal agencies do not mandate the reporting of food animal drug usage, making it difficult to characterize the use of the drug in food animal production. Read More >