‘Low Dose’ Antibiotics in Chicken Feed for Weight Gain Widespread, Investigation Finds


Major poultry producers in the U.S. are still allowing chronic use of antibiotics in chicken feed—even though the controversial drugs have been linked to antibiotic resistant bacteria—finds a Reuters investigation.

According to the investigation, antibiotics in chicken feed is a “standard practice” that continues throughout most birds’ lives raised by companies including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, George’s, Koch Foods and Perdue Farms (the company has stated that it recently removed antibiotics from its hatcheries).

“In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people,” Reuters noted. “Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.”

Reuters says it reviewed more than 320 documents from six major poultry companies in the last two years. “They list the names and grams per ton of each ‘active drug ingredient’ in a batch of feed. They disclose the FDA-approved purpose of each medication. And they specify which stage in a chicken’s roughly six-week life the feed is meant for.” But according to Reuters, “U.S. regulators don’t monitor how the drugs are administered on the farm – in what doses, for what purposes, or for how long.”

Reuters’ access to the documents marks the first time this information has ever been made available to the public. And there’s a big cause for concern: “About 10 percent of the feed tickets reviewed by Reuters list antibiotics belonging to medically important drug classes [for humans],” the news site reported. “But in recent presentations, scientists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the use of any type of antibiotic, not just medically important ones, contributes to resistance. They said that whenever an antibiotic is administered, it kills weaker bacteria and enables the strongest to survive and multiply.”

Use of antibiotics in chicken feed and other livestock feeds isn’t new. But Reuters found that the major poultry processors all stated publicly that antibiotic use was limited to the health of the flocks and preventing diseases. “But the feed tickets, which list the medications included in chicken feed, highlight a second effect of many of the drugs: bulking up the birds.”

Read Reuters’ full investigation here. 

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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