I'm lovin' it! On March 4th of this year, McDonald's USA announced their new menu sourcing initiatives which will now only include chickens that have been raised without the use of antibiotics "important to human medicine". This is a step in the right direction as it is important to minimize the use of these in food animals for reasons such as antibiotic resistance and consequences of overuse. Their use as growth promoters needs to be phased out.
There are many antibiotics that are approved by the FDA to keep chickens healthy and treat disease. The majority of these; however, are not used in human medicine. "By December 2016, antibiotics that are important in human medicine will be labeled for use in food animals only to address disease and not to promote growth…"¹
Boiler chickens are susceptible to getting diseases much like humans are. Various treatments are currently underway to prevent these diseases such as ionophores and non-antibiotic coccidiostats. These two treatments are used to prevent intestinal diseases so the overuse of potentially medically important antibiotics can be avoided down the road. These are not used for growth promotion.
Are there antibiotics in the chicken we eat?
Some companies have a line of chickens that are raised without antibiotics and therefore labeled "raised without antibiotics". However, if any of these chickens end up getting sick and need medical attention (antibiotics to treat infection) they are no longer able to receive the "raised without antibiotics" label and must labeled with another designation.
It is also important to note that extensive testing is done to make sure the food at the grocery store does not contain antibiotic residues. If antibiotics are used on the farm, these must be cleared from the animals' system before they can be slaughtered (federal rule).
What the CDC says about the current state of antibiotic resistance in the U.S.
It is estimated that in the U.S., over 2 million people are sickened every year with antibiotic-resistant infections (~23,000 dying as a result). This is a complex issue and is a burden on the economy with healthcare costs over $20 billion a year.
"The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine. However, up to 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed."²
Contrary to popular belief, the leading cause of bacterial antibiotic resistance is not due to antibiotic use in food animals but the overreliance on antibiotics in human medicine and poor antimicrobial stewardship in hospitals. For more information on the most urgent bacterial threats, consequences of inaction and what can be done about them, read the Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013 from the CDC.
"When comparing humans and food-producing animals by body weight, humans consume 10 times more antibiotics per unit of body weight than farm animals"! (Barber, D.A., 2001. JAVMA, 218 (10): 1559-1561).³
- Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013