US poultry companies halting use of antibiotic
CHICAGO - Big poultry producers have flocked quickly this month to rally behind the cause of food safety by banning use of an antibiotic for chickens and turkeys amid rising consumer concerns that it may harm humans.
Perdue Inc., the fifth-biggest U.S. poultry producer, this week became the third top U.S. poultry firm to announce it has stopped using the antibiotic fluoroquinolone, adopting a \"zero tolerance\" policy towards it.
The move follows similar action taken last week first by top grower Tyson Foods and the second-largest processor, Gold Kist Inc.
All three poultry companies said they each had greatly reduced the antibiotic\'s use over the past few years and that the new policy was a precaution to allay consumer concerns.
Livestock producers have long used antibiotics to prevent contagious diseases in food animals that are more and more raised in confined spaces.
The concern is that since fluoroquinolone is also used to treat human illnesses, its use in food animals is suspected of causing resistant bacteria that can be transferred to humans, medical sources said.
For example, humans who eat undercooked chicken infected with salmonella can develop serious digestive problems, plus it can kill infants, elderly people, and those with weak immune systems.
\"We know there are conflicting studies and a lack of conclusive scientific data on the use of fluoroquinolones,\" Perdue Farms chairman Jim Perdue said on Wednesday.
\"That is why, in the interest of our customers and consumers, we have decided to make an across-the board decision to stop using this antibiotic,\" Perdue said.
Perdue, which produces 13 million chickens and turkeys a week, said none of its 686 million birds were treated with the drug this past year and less than .01 percent were treated with it the year before.
Tyson and Gold Kist said the antibiotic was used on less than 0.2 percent of their chickens.
\"WISE MOVE\" SAYS MEDICAL COMMUNITY
The medical community praised the moves by Perdue, Tyson Foods, and Gold Kist.
\"That comes as great news to us. We think that is a wise move,\" said Edward Hill, chairman elect of the American Medical Association\'s board of trustees.
The three companies said they also are reducing the use of all antibiotics in their flocks. They said changes in production practices, selective breeding, and strict bio-security measures have lessened the need for antibiotics.
There are more than 11 million cattle in U.S. feedlots, while the majority of the nation\'s 52 million market hogs and almost all of its 8.5 billion chickens are raised in crowded pens.
The AMA has been opposed to antibiotic use in livestock production. It praised legislation introduced on Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives to gradually phase out the use of some antibiotics fed to animals.
\"As you know, antibiotics remain one of the most useful and important medical advances in recent history,\" the AMA wrote in a letter to Rep. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. \"Their effectiveness, however, is being compromised by bacterial resistance, arising in part from excessive use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.\"
Brown was one of three House Democrats who introduced the legislation on Wednesday, which claims such antibiotic use in food animals can create drug-resistant bacteria that can be harmful to humans.
But not everyone opposes antibiotic use in livestock
Dennis Avery, director of the Hudson Institute\'s Center for Global Food Issues, said antibiotics have been critical in the nation\'s ability to efficiently increase meat production without increasing land use.
The Center conducts research on agriculture and environmental issues surrounding food and fiber production.
\"If we disarm our farmers we are either going to have to accept the kind of food rationing they have in Cuba or we are going to sacrifice a lot of wildlife habitat in order to produce the food that will be demanded,\" Avery said.
Story by Bob Burgdorfer
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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