How Antibiotics Made the Hen Marketplace — And Turned It Into a Supply of Lethal Bacterial infections

By Dr. Mercola

Maryn McKenna is an investigative journalist and senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis College who has prepared a variety of health and fitness-relevant books. Her most recent, “Big Hen: The Remarkable Tale of How Antibiotics Developed Modern day Agriculture and Modified the Way the World Eats,” exposes several features of the rooster business that most individuals are totally unaware of.

The e-book grew out of an curiosity in antibiotic resistance, which she started investigating about 10 many years back. As noted by McKenna, antibiotic resistance is a vastly underestimated wellness danger.

An estimated 23,000 Americans die each yr from drug-resistant infections, and even while wellness officers are developing increasingly involved that drug-resistant STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) are increasing at alarming prices, the challenge stays largely dismissed. Globally, the dying toll attributed to drug-resistant bacterial infections is believed to be around 700,000 per year, and it’s only having even worse.

Agriculture performs a major purpose in this in the U.S., four times as a lot of antibiotics are applied in livestock as are applied in human medicine. On the 1 hand, experts warn we require to maintain and protect antibiotics lest they end up getting rid of their success, and on the other, the food industry is feeding them to animals, most of which are not sick. “That contradiction is what established me on the journey that ended up in this e book,” McKenna suggests.

How It All Commenced

Traditionally, chickens had been somewhat scrawny small birds that no 1 imagined to take in as a major meal on a standard basis. Today, Us residents eat an average of 91 lbs of hen each 12 months. “Chickens are increasing speediest in consumption about the earth mainly because they are quite easy to raise,” McKenna notes. They will not have to have a good deal of land, for example, and can consume scraps. 

 “If we go back again to the time of our grandparents and great grandparents, virtually every person raised chickens … But the motive they were being there wasn’t mainly to be a meat resource. It was to be a resource for eggs, since eggs have been quite affordable, really quick to produce protein. For the most component, we ate hen just after a hen’s egg-laying times were being performed.

If you visualize a hen that is been jogging close to for a pair of several years chasing chicks all-around the barnyard, flapping up into a tree to prevent the spouse and children dog, scratching for bugs … that chicken is going to be scrawny and muscular. Not very delicious.

Possibly with a very prosperous flavor from all of that muscular growth, but not tender and juicy the way our chickens are now. The only [exception] would have been … baby roosters … [which are] fed for a pair of months and then sold. They were termed spring chickens and have been regarded uniquely tasty …

Then, out of a definitely interesting confluence of accidents, hen moves forward as a meat resource — initially, since it turns out that chickens are so simple to increase that farmers in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia … change from being farmers of greens to farmers of chickens … Their current market for these meat chickens is New York City, which … [had] the biggest focus of Jewish populace in the world.

Jews who want to observe the Sabbath and want to have a lovely, exotic, lavish meal for the Sabbath are not able to try to eat pork, naturally … You could go into a are living sector and look at the rooster get killed in entrance of you, and know that it was religiously appropriate. So, hen grew to become the meat of New York City.”

How Antibiotics Produced the Present day Rooster Sector

But these info by itself did not generate the hen marketplace we have now. Antibiotics played a crucial role in this enhancement. It made use of to be that most animals lifted for food stuff in the U.S. were fed antibiotics on a daily foundation — not simply because they were sick, but somewhat because small doses of antibiotics (way too smaller to basically remedy an infection) triggered the animal to set on weight more rapidly.

Now, McKenna suggests this follow has been banned because January 2017 for the goal of pounds acquire, but the use of antibiotics as a “preventive” measure (for prospective health issues) is continue to legal — and as a result nonetheless mainly unregulated.

Because much more meat for every animal indicates much more financial gain, the apply is pushed mainly by economics. Subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics were being also proven to defend animals from diseases usually distribute in crowded barns and feedlots. The initial antibiotic, penicillin, was properly utilized in the battlefields of Earth War II in 1943.

In 1944, the drug turned offered for the typical general public, and grew to become an instant achievement. But a different intriguing factor also took place at the conclude of Entire world War II. The food stuff technique grew fragile, partly because of destruction caused all through the war. There was also a robust press to save revenue. One particular way producers did that was by providing their animals less expensive feed. Alas, less costly feed intended a lot less nutrition and a lot more ailment, so farmers started to lookup for methods to compensate.

“A specialist in the nutritional requires of chicken — who takes place to be doing work for 1 of these businesses that’s earning a person of the 1st antibiotics — goes in a research for nutritional supplements. Just one of the nutritional supplements he tries takes advantage of the dried producing leftovers from his company’s drug, Aureomycin. It can be the first of the tetracycline class of prescription drugs.

To his amazement, the baby chicks that get the dried Aureomycin leftovers grow extra than 2 times as quick and put on twice as considerably fat as any of the other chicks in his experiment. From that, the globally sector of supplying antibiotics to animals is born. In five decades, American farmers are providing their livestock 500,000 pounds of antibiotics a year. Now, it really is around 30 million kilos [per year].”

How Hen Became a Main Meat Source 

Breeding also performed a very important job. In a nationwide contest termed “The Rooster of Tomorrow Contest,” which took spot in the 1940s into the early ‘50s, breeders reshaped the scrawny barnyard chicken into the breast-large chook we’re common with right now. “So, there is a collection of both of those historical mishaps and technological improvements that get us to the issue where by, suitable now, as opposed to the chickens that have been about in the 1950s, they [grow] to two times the slaughter fat in 50 % the time,” McKenna says.

A Republican marketing campaign advert with the slogan “A Rooster for Every Pot,” eventually turned rooster meat into a correct family staple. “At the time, hen was scarce and particular. Hen was a issue you ate primarily on Sunday. It was by no means the meat that we eat each individual day as it is these days,” McKenna states. The slogan was effectively a political campaign promise of prosperity created on the behalf of Herbert Hoover.

Then, in 1977, the U.S. government issued its very first ever dietary recommendations for Individuals, which bundled the suggestion to steer clear of saturated extra fat. Although it didn’t specify that you ought to steer clear of pink meat, it was interpreted that way by most persons, and rooster — white meat — grew exponentially in acceptance as a final result. A single other issue transpired at this time that made the changeover from beef to chicken less difficult.

“A really clever idiosyncratic scientist functioning up in upstate New York figured out how to do with rooster what farmers and house owners have been undertaking with beef and pork for generations, and that was to make rooster into different issues. You did not have to just roast, fry, bake or broil the rooster. You could consume rooster bologna, rooster hotdogs and the most vital matter — the issue that really adjustments the historical past of the chicken — hen nuggets.

We believe of them as remaining a creation of McDonald’s, but right before McDonald’s in 1980, there was Robert Baker of Cornell University who, in 1963, published the very first recipe for what he known as a rooster adhere, which was bits of rooster glued jointly with excessive protein breaded, frozen and then deep-fried … Processed rooster — hen that is not just rooster on the bone — completely changed our romantic relationship to hen … That is how it obtained to the place it is in our diet regime.”

The Evolution of Rooster Farming

Regrettably, rooster output in the U.S. has grow to be an field that areas profits about just about every little thing else, like animal welfare and farmer’s legal rights. Precision breeding turned the boisterous barnyard rooster into an exceptionally docile animal that did not (in truth couldn’t) move much. These new attributes allowed farmers to cram the animals jointly in limited areas.

Right now, industrial chickens are raised in huge warehouses the length of a football field, which can home 25,000 to 35,000 chickens at a time. There, they are living in artificial daylight, with an artificially shortened night. Absence of place prevents them from shifting about substantially and, on common, they only dwell 42 days.

“The issue that is so amazing … is the enterprise composition that grew up to empower these huge farms to transpire. The farmers who elevate chickens you should not really individual the chickens. They very own their land, usually, despite the fact that they are likely shelling out a mortgage loan on it. They fork out to create people homes. They possess their debt. They own the manure that comes out of those people residences.

The business they mature for, the organization to which they’re contracted (they are called deal farmers), purchases mum or dad birds from a genetics enterprise, hatches the chicks, normally takes the chicks to the farmers, delivers the feed to the farmers, picks the birds up 6 months afterwards, usually takes them to a organization-owned slaughtering plant, slaughters them, packages them, distributes them and negotiates the whole sale contract.

Just about every little thing which is revenue-earning in the process of increasing hen belongs to the corporation. Nearly every thing that is challenging or economically perilous about it stays with the farmer,” McKenna states.

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Political Power Play Prevented FDA From Addressing Antibiotic Harms  

If a bird has received antibiotics to the point that it’s still present in the meat, this antibiotic residue is regulated by law in the U.S. The real peril when animals are given antibiotics is that it causes unnatural growth by altering their gut microbiome. In the process, some of those gut bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. One of two things can then happen. Either the bacteria are passed into the environment via the animal’s manure, or the gut contents may contaminate the meat during slaughter or processing.

This contaminated meat can then spread the bacteria onto utensils, cutting boards and countertops, contaminating other foods as well. “So, the peril here is the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That’s the larger backdrop to the problem of the way that antibiotics created an artificial system of raising animals,” McKenna says.

As mentioned, an estimated 23,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. Another 48 million people contract foodborne illness. Contaminated chicken meat has also been linked to a drug-resistant UTI epidemic.

“Antibiotic-resistant foodborne illness is an enormous problem,” she says. “It’s actually how the issue of giving antibiotics to meat animals first was exposed as a danger — first in England and then in the United States. It was noticed in the 1960s and ’70s, when there were suddenly very large outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant, foodborne illness, which had never existed in the world before.

England successfully controlled this practice first. A government commission told the English government in 1969, ‘We really should ban the use of growth promoters.’ In 1971, they did. They were the first government anywhere to do that. That directed attention to the United States because we were the historic home of growth promoters.

In 1977 … FDA commissioner … Donald Kennedy … came into office swearing he was going to take away the licenses for growth promoters that the FDA had approved in the 1950s …

He never got [the chance]. A powerful congressman who had oversight over the FDA’s budget communicated via a back channel to the White House saying, ‘If this hearing goes forward, I will hold hostage the entire FDA budget.’ The Carter Administration were reformers, but they weren’t dumb about politics. They knew they had a lot of other battles they wanted to fight … They … told [Kennedy] his hearing could not go ahead.

That congressman, Congressman Jamie Whitten of Mississippi, actually put a rider on the Appropriations Bills that said that — until he said otherwise — the FDA could not invest in research [to investigate] whether antibiotics used in animals were a risk. That went on until the 1990s when Congressman Whitten retired …

The government’s hands were tied, even though from that point, decade after decade, every major scientific body — the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the AMA, even academic researchers funded by the NIH — all said [that] antibiotics used freely in meat animals are a grave risk to human health.”

Steps in the Right Direction

It took more than 30 years before any significant changes took place. It wasn’t until last year, just as the Obama administration was exiting office, that a set of rules were created by the White House that changed how we use antibiotics in animals raised for food. A number of large chicken producers are also taking proactive steps to phase out antibiotics.

Sanderson Farms is an exception to this trend. Refusing to acknowledge the impact antibiotics are having, Sanderson Farms has gone on record stating that antibiotic-free chicken is nothing but a gimmick designed to sell chicken for higher prices. The reason they call it a gimmick is because antibiotic-treated chicken will not have antibiotic residue in its meat. Hence there’s no difference between treated and untreated animals.

However, this rationale completely misses the point, because the issue is not the elimination of antibiotics in the meat, it’s the elimination of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the meat. It’s the bacteria that pose a threat to human health. Others have done a far greater job. Perdue Farms announced its plan to go antibiotic-free in 2014, and by then the company had already made significant strides. At present, Perdue Farms claims to be more than 99 percent antibiotic-free, and have forced competitors to follow suit.

“After Perdue came Tyson, Cargill, McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell and many others,” McKenna says. “The reason, I think, Perdue felt they could [go antibiotic-free] is [because] they were being pressured by consumers. They told me they would get more than 3,000 comments a month from consumers through phone, email, Facebook and so forth, asking them about antibiotic use in their chickens …

The Obama administration also felt it was possible to create [new] rules … because a consumer movement was rising. They said to food companies, ‘We no longer want to spend our dollars for meat raised with routine use of antibiotics. We don’t feel this is safe.’ This was also stated by large catering departments at hospitals who said, ‘This puts our vulnerable patients at risk.’ It was also said by very large food systems in school districts.”

Consumer Demand Is a Driving Factor in Creating a Safer Food System

In other words, consumer demand demonstrated there was a real market for antibiotic-free chicken. Interestingly, once Perdue began investigating the use of antibiotics, they discovered that the drugs no longer work the way they used to. Everyone was basically just following a formula they knew had worked in the past, and no one had bothered to assess whether anything had changed. As it turns out, things had changed, and removing antibiotics actually didn’t result in any significant losses at all.

Another question that arose was whether antibiotics could prevent disease in animals living in crowded conditions. Perdue realized they could stimulate the birds’ immune systems in other ways, using herbs and probiotics, for example. The last step they took was to improve the animal’s living conditions, installing windows in the barns. The natural sunlight in turn provides natural vitamin D protection. They also changed the interior around to allow the birds to get more exercise and opportunity to flap their wings.

“[Perdue] is still raising a lot of chickens, but not in quite as close quarters as they used to,” McKenna says. “The thing that’s especially magic about that to me is that all of the stuff I just described — giving them a different diet, letting them exercise, letting them to have sunlight — those are not only things that stimulate the immune system, they’re also things that create flavor.”

Be Part of the Change           

McKenna’s book, “Big Chicken,” does an excellent job of detailing how consumer pressure can create enormously beneficial changes in our food system. There are still other changes that need to be made. For starters, chickens are still fed a diet consisting primarily of genetically engineered (GE) grains sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate, which in addition to being a toxin also has antibiotic activity. Ideally, chicken producers would at the very least revert back to using all non-GE grains for their feed.

Considering the fact that most CAFOs in other nations are able to profitably raise chickens on non-GE grains (where GMOs are not permitted), there’s no doubt it can be done in the U.S. as well. The key is to keep asking for it. We also need to continue pushing for change in other areas. As noted by McKenna:

“We can’t rest on what we’ve gotten so far. We have to go forward to pig producers, to cattle producers, to fish producers. Fish farming — and especially in the developing world, shrimp farming — are huge consumers of antibiotics, which is even more influential for the ecosystem of the ocean than it is for the ecosystem of the land.

As pointless as it seems to send a message through a company’s Facebook page or to talk to the customer service desk at a supermarket, all of those messages add up. People can create more change if they just persist …

I hope people will take this to heart, and look for antibiotic-free meat when they do their grocery shopping … Look for a label that says, ‘Raised without antibiotics’ and/or ‘no antibiotics ever’ … Don’t rely on organic, because the U.S. organic standard for chicken starts on Day Two of the chicken’s life.

A chicken raised by an organic producer that thinks they’re doing everything right could have been given antibiotics, either injected into the shell or in the first day of life to protect them in transit to the organic producer.

For me, it’s as important to see ‘no antibiotics ever’ (NAE) or ‘raised without antibiotics’ [on the label] as it is to see ‘organic,’ though that covers so many other benefits for the animal. I really think if people just keep pressing, we’re going to see more change.”

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