Antibiotics in Feed Boosts Poultry Production Costs

Johns Hopkins study: Growth-promoting antibiotics not worth the cost.

Early this week, the Washington, D.C.-based, Keep Antibiotics Working coalition released a report on a Johns Hopkins University economic study showing that growth-promoting antibiotics slightly accelerated chicken growth. But the cost resulted in a penny per chicken net loss.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Business research was based on Perdue, Inc., data was economic study, not one of poultry health. And, no mention was made of when the data was collected.

Perdue and three other large poultry producers—Tyson, Gold Kist, and Foster Farms—say they no longer use antibiotics to promote growth. But since U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration don't collect drug use data, there's no way to verify these claims, counters Richard Wood, steering committee chair of KAW.

"We've never believed that shaving a few pennies off production costs justified the erosion of our valuable arsenal of antibiotics" notes Wood. "But the fact that in today's poultry operations, growth promoting antibiotics don't even reduce costs just strengthens the case for eliminating them. It doesn't make sense - or cents - to continue this practice."

Medical and public health experts have long decried use of growth promoting antibiotics as an important cause of antibiotic-resistant infections. Europe has banned them for this reason.

Ag and pharmaceutical interests have defended the practice by arguing that GPAs are needed for efficient farm production. But this study, contends Wood, refutes using the poultry industry's own data.

Proposed federal legislation, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, (H.R. 2562/ S. 742), sponsored by incoming Senate Health Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would phase out the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine as animal feed additives within two years. The American Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among the more than 350 health, agriculture and other groups nationwide that have endorsed this bill.

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