National Consumers League

Better poultry practices start with consumer demand

Last week, Perdue, one of the nation’s largest poultry producers, announced the removal of antibiotics in its hatcheries.  It is the latest action in their 12 year plan to reduce antibiotics in poultry production.  Perdue has been a leader in the industry’s antibiotic reduction efforts, with 95 percent of its chickens never receiving human antibiotics and the remaining 5 percent administered human antibiotics for limited time periods, when prescribed by a veterinarian.  

In hatcheries, eggs are injected with drugs that can prevent common poultry diseases. A common practice is to use antibiotics to prevent infections that come from the hole in the shell left by the injection. Five years after implementation, Perdue eliminated antibiotics by improving cleaning procedures and administering vaccines to laying hens that improved eggs immunity. 

Perdue’s decision comes on the heels of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidance for industry recommending the removal of antibiotics used in food for growth promotion.  Perdue already eliminated the use of human antibiotics in feed in 2007.  The guidance, put out in December, is part of a larger plan to reduce antimicrobial resistance.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have quantified the toll antibiotic-resistance infections have on Americans annually, concluding that at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths are a result of antimicrobial resistance.

Perdue’s decision to eliminate antibiotics in their hatcheries goes beyond any of the FDA’s present industry guidelines. Setting new standards based on consumer demand holds other companies in the industry to improve their procedures.   

There is always more work to be done in ensuring the safest, healthiest animal production.  Antibiotics are still grossly overused in many circumstances and the government has yet to mandate eliminating antibiotic use for growth promotion let alone other practices such as those in hatcheries.  Progress requires engagement not only from government and industry but from consumers who demand safe and healthy foods.