Tag Archives: Food and Drug Administration

The case against antibiotics in poultry

More than 50 billion birds a year are produced in industrial poultry hatcheries worldwide.

On January 4th, 2012 the FDA quietly prohibited the “extralabel” or unapproved use of the common (yet strong) cephalosporin class of antibiotics in cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys to be effective April 5, 2012. The FDA says it is taking this action to preserve the effectiveness of cephalosporin drugs for treating disease in humans, for it has been noted that as cephalosporin use increases in animal agriculture, human effectiveness diminishes.Cephalosporin antibiotics are a stronger cousin to penicillins. Doctors currently use cephalosporins to treat pneumonia, strep throat, tonsillitis, bronchitis, urinary tract infections and to prevent bacterial infection before, during, and after surgery.

Currently, unapproved use and abuse of antibiotics for food-intended animals is common practice. Sources say, some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are being fed or injected into cattle, pigs and poultry on industrial factory farms.2

One such unstudied and unapproved use of cephalosporins in food-intended animals, is their injection into poultry eggs. Although the FDA has approved the use of cephalosporins on animal farms for various specific veterinary purposes, such as curing an existing infection, the unapproved or “extra-label” use of cephalosporins, to suppress potential future infection, by injecting doses into chicken eggs just before the eggs hatch, has become widespread.

Every five weeks, a large poultry farm sees a delivery of newly hatched chicks (which have been mechanically injected with a third generation cephalosporin just prior to hatching). The chicks are then rapidly fattened with a feed laced with low-dose antibiotics, most likely amoxycillin and tetracycline, which are currently allowed in animal feed and will continue to be allowed in feed by the FDA.3 When the chicks reach three and a half pounds they are sent off for slaughter. Years ago, it took two months to fatten up a chicken, today they can eat their way to 3.5 pounds in just 33 days. Today’s low dose antibiotics are the reason the birds are bulking up so quickly. Upon exit of the chickens, the floor of the once crowded pen is cleaned for the first time in over five weeks, the month plus of excrement that the birds have been sleeping and sitting in from day two of their lives, is scraped away, and the process repeats itself. These are the types of conditions that set in motion the use of preventative antibiotics.

The FDA has taken a bold and much needed first step to reign in antibiotic use. FDA officials, scientists and physicians have been warning for years that antibiotics in agriculture pose a “serious public health threat” and action needs to be taken on the issue, but no concrete steps to limit the drugs had been taken until the January 4th announcement.

Another way to decrease antibiotic use on factory farms is to reduce demand. There appear to be three options: become a vegetarian, buy from a local, sustainable, humane farmer, or, for those who are capable, start your own small scale hatchery or poultry farm! The number of people dependent on big industry would decrease, and many a chicken and turkey would lead a more dignified life.

While we’ve all heard that over-prescription of antibiotics to people is one cause of resistance, another major cause is due to the unrestricted use of antibiotics on factory farms. And not just when animals are sick: healthy animals are fed antibiotics every day because it makes them grow bigger, faster. Marketplace tests 100 samples of chicken for antibiotic resistant strains of sakmonella. www.cbc.ca

The U.S. animal farming industry consumes over 30 million pounds of antibiotics per year.

Antibiotic use on U.S. livestock in 2010:  Cephalosporins- 54,207 pounds (24,588 kilograms),  Penicillins- 1.9 million pounds (870,948 kg),  Tetracyclines- 12.3 million pounds (5.6 million kg). www.mnn.com

The use of penicillin and tetracyclines – the fattening drugs the F.D.A. has chosen not to regulate – increased 43 percent and 21 percent from 2009 to 2010. In anticipation of the new law, the use of cephalosporins dropped 41 percent from 2009 to 2010.3

*1)  www.miller-mccune.com

*2)  newsfeedresearcher.com

*3)  bittman.blogs.nytimes.com


Leverstein-van Hall, MA et al. Dutch patients, retail chicken meat and poultry share the same ESBL genes, plasmids and strains. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 2011.

Pappas, G. An Animal Farm Called ESBL: Antimicrobial resistance as a zoonosis. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 2011.

Further Reading:

About cephalosporins: www.emedexpert.com

FDA Press Release: www.fda.gov


In Germany, although non-therapeutic use of antibiotics has been banned – conditions are poor: www.spiegel.de

Source: http://www.inspirationgreen.com/antibiotic-chicks.html


Consumer Reports Investigation of Ground Turkey in the USA

Consumer Reports investigation: Talking turkey – Our new tests show reasons for concern
Consumer Reports magazine: June 2013

In our first-ever lab analysis of ground turkey bought at retail stores nationwide, more than half of the packages of raw ground meat and patties tested positive for fecal bacteria. Some samples harbored other germs, including salmonella and staphylococcus aureus, two of the leading causes of foodborne illness in the U.S. Overall, 90 percent of the samples had one or more of the five bacteria for which we tested.

Adding to the concern, almost all of the disease-causing organisms in our 257 samples proved resistant to one or more of the antibiotics commonly used to fight them. Turkeys (and other food animals, including chickens and pigs) are given antibiotics to treat acute illness; but healthy animals may also get drugs daily in their food and water to boost their rate of weight gain and to prevent disease. Many of the drugs are similar to antibiotics important in human medicine.That practice, especially prevalent at large feedlots and mass-production facilities, is speeding the growth of drug-resistant superbugs, a serious health concern. People sickened by those bacteria might need to try several antibiotics before one succeeds. (Related: Read “Has Your Steak Been Mechanically Tenderized?” That report details a process that can drive bacteria like the deadly pathogen E. coli O157:H7 from the surface deep into the center of the meat.)Among our findings:

· Sixty-nine percent of ground-turkey samples harbored enterococcus, and 60 percent harbored Escherichia coli. Those bugs are associated with fecal contamination. About 80 percent of the enterococcus bacteria were resistant to three or more groups of closely related antibiotics (or classes), as were more than half of the E. coli.

· Three samples were contaminated with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can cause fatal infections.

· Ground turkey labeled “no antibiotics,” “organic,” or “raised without antibiotics” was as likely to harbor bacteria as products without those claims. (After all, even meat from organic birds can pick up bacteria during slaughter or processing.) The good news is that bacteria on those products were much less likely to be antibiotic-­resistant superbugs.

· to be antibiotic-­resistant superbugs.

From barn to burgerConventionally raised turkeys are fed mostly corn and soybean meal plus a vitamin and mineral supplement. They usually get FDA-approved antibiotics that may be given in low doses without a prescription. Before the birds are killed, antibiotics must be withdrawn to ensure that residues clear from the birds’ systems.But harm may already have been done. Although the antibiotics eventually kill off vulnerable barnyard bugs, bacteria that are immune to their effects can flourish and spread. They can exchange genetic material with other bugs, further accelerating antibiotic resistance. And bacteria on turkeys can develop resistance to similar drugs that aren’t even given to turkeys.

Some bacteria that end up on ground turkey, including E. coli and staph aureus, can cause not only food poisoning but also urinary, bloodstream, and other infections.

Antibiotics aren’t allowed in turkeys labeled “organic,” “no antibiotics,” or  “raised without antibiotics.” (Sick birds may be treated, but they’re then sold to non­organic markets.) Organic birds must eat only certified organic feed and pasture, which means no genetically modified organisms; and production of those birds must not contribute to contamination of soil or water. Producers of organic and free-range turkeys must demonstrate to the Department of Agriculture that they’ve allowed birds “access to the outside,” though that phrase is not specifically defined and some birds may not venture outdoors.

Such steps are among the requirements for raising a food animal sustainably—without drugs and in a way that’s more healthful for animals and people.

Indeed, when we focused on antibiotic use, our analysis showed that bacteria on turkey labeled “no antibiotics” or “organic” were resistant to significantly fewer antibiotics than bacteria on conventional turkey. We also found much more resistance to classes of antibiotics approved for use in turkey production than to those not approved for such use. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes that the FDA should ban all antibiotics in animal production except to treat illness.
A need for stricter limits

When any food animal is slaughtered, the bacteria that normally live in its gut without causing harm can wind up on its carcass. To limit contamination, federal law requires processors to create a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plan. For turkey processors, HACCP includes steps for washing and chilling carcasses throughout processing to reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and contamination of the finished product.

But HACCP doesn’t require eradication of harmful bacteria. In fact, salmonella is permitted in up to half of the ground-­turkey samples that the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) tests at processors’ plants. And bugs that remain can keep growing until the turkey is cooked.

The current salmonella standard isn’t strict enough. The USDA should allow no more than 12% contamination in ground-­turkey samples.

In 2011 Cargill Value Added Meats Retail announced two voluntary recalls of a total of 36 million pounds of conventionally raised ground turkey—among the largest recalls of poultry meat in U.S. history—due to possible contamination with a resistant strain of salmonella Heidelberg. The superbug was traced to a Cargill establishment in Springdale, Ark. In all, 136 people fell ill during that outbreak, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and one of those victims died.

“As we’ve publicly stated over the past year and a half, no stone was left unturned in our efforts to determine the originating source of salmonella Heidelberg associated with the ground-turkey recalls, yet to this day we do not know the origin of the bacteria linked to outbreak of illnesses,” said Mike Robach, vice president of corporate food safety and regulatory affairs for Cargill in Minneapolis. He provided a long list of steps that Cargill has taken since the outbreak to make its ground turkey safer.

In the wake of the recalls, the FSIS required all ground-poultry processors to review and update their safety procedures, paying special attention to the sanitation of equipment. The agency told us that it also plans to conduct a risk assessment of sal­monella and campylobacter (another food-poisoning bacterium) in ground-turkey products. The goal: a new standard for salmonella and, possibly, campylobacter.

Eight ground-turkey samples in our tests, conducted a year after the recalls, harbored salmonella that resisted three or more antibiotic classes. One of those samples came from a package of turkey processed at Cargill’s Springdale plant. It harbored a strain of salmonella Heidelberg that was not the outbreak strain but resisted the same antibiotics. Even a finding of the outbreak strain, the FSIS said, “likely would not trigger a specific follow-­up action by FSIS if steps were previously taken for the affected establishment to regain control of its operations.”

Consumers Union says the current salmonella standard isn’t strict enough, and is urging the USDA to allow no more than 12 percent contamination in ground-­turkey samples, a standard most of the industry already meets.

Any improvement will come too late for consumers such as Diana Goodpasture, 66, of Akron, Ohio. She was sickened with salmonella Heidelberg from ground turkey in June 2011 and was hospitalized for five days. “I’ve had complications ever since then,” she says. “I’m still seeing a gastroenterologist. I don’t know that I’ll ever be well.”

How resistant to antibiotics? We determined whether samples of four bacteria isolated from our tested ground turkey could survive exposure to as many as 16 antibiotics at levels usually effective against those bugs. The antibiotics we tried differed with each bug and included ampicillin, ceftriaxone, ciprofloxacin, tetracycline, and others often used to treat the illnesses those bacteria cause. Classes are groups of similar antibiotics. Three of the 39 samples of staph aureus harbored MRSA, a potentially deadly bacterium. [See original article for table.]
What you can do Slip up during handling and you risk illness.Common slip-ups while handling or cooking ground turkey can put you at risk of illness. Although the bacteria we found are killed by thorough cooking, they can produce toxins that may not be destroyed by heat. Take the following precautions:

· Buy turkey labeled “organic” or “no anti­biotics,” especially if it also has a “USDA Process Verified” label, which means that the USDA has confirmed that the producer is doing what it says. Organic and no-antibiotics brands in our tests were: Coastal Range Organics, Eberly, Giant Eagle Nature’s Basket, Harvestland, Kosher Valley, Nature’s Place, Nature’s Promise, Nature’s Rancher, Plainville Farms, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Wild Harvest.

· Consider other labels, such as “animal welfare approved” and “certified humane,” which mean that antibiotics were restricted to sick animals.
· Be aware that “natural” meat is simply minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients or added color. It can come from an animal that ate antibiotics daily.
· Know that no type of meat—whether turkey, chicken, beef, or pork—is risk free.
· Buy meat just before checking out, and place it in a plastic bag to prevent leaks.
· If you will cook meat within a couple of days, store it at 40° F or below. Otherwise, freeze it. (Note that freezing may not kill bacteria.)
· Cook ground turkey to at least 165° F. Check with a meat thermometer.
· Wash hands and all surfaces after handling ground turkey.
· Don’t return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw.

Sickened by a turkey burger?

Hours after she grilled a turkey burger for dinner in June 2011, Diana Goodpasture, 66, of Akron, Ohio, says she felt awful. “In the middle of the night, I woke up and I was sick,” she says. “I started to get an upset stomach and diarrhea, and then it just got progressively worse from there.”

Goodpasture, a van driver, says she thought she’d caught a stomach flu, so she stayed home for a few days. But the gastrointestinal symptoms and crampy abdominal pain worsened. “It got so bad that my kids said, ‘You have to go to the hospital,’ ” she recalls. Goodpasture was hospitalized at Akron General Medical Center for five days.

Tests showed that she’d fallen ill from salmonella Heidelberg. The leftover ground turkey she’d frozen after dinner also tested positive when analyzed by the Summit County Public Health Department.

Almost two years later, Goodpasture says she’s still not completely well. “It has really messed up my intestinal system. And from what I can tell, that’s just a lifetime thing I’m going to have to deal with,” she says. “It changed my whole life.”

Source: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/06/consumer-reports-investigation-talking-turkey/index.htm

FDA Sued for Concealing Records on Arsenic in Poultry Feed

Today the consumer advocacy groupFood & Water Watch announced that it sued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), saying that the agency has unlawfully ignored a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to arsenic-based drugs—known as arsenicals—that are added to poultry feed

The lawsuit follows on the heels of a new study led by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), which found that feeding arsenicals to chickens likely increases consumers’ exposure to inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen. 

Food & Water Watch alleges that the agency has not responded to a FOIA request that it and CLF submitted last year. The organizations are seeking correspondence between the agency and the drug company Pfizer concerning arsenicals. 

“It is simply outrageous that the FDA has concealed information about these drugs from the public,” saidWenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “We want to know more about why the agency has failed to withdraw arsenical approvals despite evidence of their danger.” 

Beginning in 1944, the FDA approved more than 100 products that contain arsenicals for use in chickens, turkeys and pigs to increase weight gain and make the animals’ meat look pinker, among other purposes. Their use quickly became a standard practice in industrial chicken production, with the chicken industry estimating that 88 percent of U.S. chickens received an arsenical known as roxarsone in 2010. 

In 2011, FDA scientists found that feeding roxarsone to chickens increased concentrations of inorganic arsenic in chicken livers. The agency simultaneously announced that Pfizer would voluntarily suspend sales of roxarsone in this country. The FDA did not take any further action publicly, however, and roxarsone and three other arsenicals remain approved for use. Pfizer may return roxarsone to the U.S. market at any time. 

The FDA at first insisted that eating chicken produced with roxarsone did not pose a health risk; then the agency reversed course and claimed the risk was “very low.” When CLF asked the FDA whether it had quantified the health risk, the agency said that it had not. 

The organizations submitted the FOIA request in August 2012 due to these inconsistent actions and statements. The agency never responded beyond acknowledging that they had received the request. 

“We want to know what the FDA and Pfizer were telling each other privately to see if it matches what the agency told consumers,” Hauter said. “It is hard to imagine how the FDA persuaded Pfizer to suspend sale of such a lucrative product if the agency did not believe there could be a significant risk.” 

The CLF study published May 11, 2013, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that breast meat from conventionally produced chickens, which by law may receive arsenicals in their feed, had three times more inorganic arsenic than did the breast meat of USDA Organic chickens, which by law may not receive arsenicals. The chicken was purchased between December 2010 and June 2011, before roxarsone sales were suspended. 

“This study strongly suggests that using arsenicals in chickens increases the levels of a carcinogen found in chicken meat,” said Keeve Nachman, PhD, who directs the Farming for the Future program at CLF. “These findings highlight the need to know how the FDA is regulating these drugs and why the agency has refused to withdraw arsenical approvals.” 

The FDA has 30 days to respond to the complaint. 

US study exposes arsenic in poultry production

Chickens likely raised with arsenic-based drugs result in chicken meat that has higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, according to a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

US study exposes arsenic in poultry production

The study claims to be the first to show concentrations of specific forms of arsenic (e.g., inorganic arsenic versus other forms) in retail chicken meat, and the first to compare those concentrations according to whether or not the poultry was raised with arsenical drugs. The findings provide evidence that arsenical use in chickens poses public health risks and indicate that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for regulating animal drugs, should ban arsenicals, the authors of the study state.

Conventional, antibiotic-free, and USDA Organic chicken samples were purchased from 10 US metropolitan areas between December 2010 and June 2011, when an arsenic-based drug then manufactured by Pfizer and known as roxarsone was readily available to poultry companies that wished to add it to their feed. In addition to inorganic arsenic, the researchers were able to identify residual roxarsone in the meat they studied; in the meat where roxarsone was detected, levels of inorganic arsenic were four times higher than the levels in USDA Organic chicken (in which roxarsone and other arsenicals are prohibited from use).

However, the report has been slammed by US poultry organisation, the National Chicken Council. “It is not surprising or worrisome that very low levels of arsenic were found on chicken,” said Ashley Peterson, NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.  “Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our environment that is widely distributed within the earth’s soil, air and water.”

Peterson added, “The samples analyzed, taken as part of this extremely small, agenda-driven study, were purchased before Roxarsone was removed from the market in June, 2011, and the conclusions are used to intentionally mislead consumers.

“Even if one agrees with the scientific methods and conclusions of this controversial study, some perspective is needed.  For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets safety limits for the amount of arsenic in drinking water.  That limit is 10 parts per billion.  Researchers in this study claim to have found about 2 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in conventional chicken, or five times less than what the EPA deems as safe for water.  (To place one part per billion in perspective, this quantity is equivalent to 1.7 inches in relation to the circumference of the Earth.)

“To put the authors’ cancer risk calcuation into perspective, if a person consumed an additional one glass of water every day they would ingest approximately the same amount of inorganic arsenic, and the same calculation could be made. “Would the public be cautioned about drinking an additional glass of water each day?” Peterson asked.

Peterson concluded. “There is no documented evidence to suggest that very tiny levels of arsenic in our food supply pose any health problems.”

Source: http://www.worldpoultry.net/Broilers/Nutrition/2013/5/US-study-exposes-arsenic-in-poultry-production-1252699W/