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Antibiotics Begone! Food Choices, Farm Choices

September 4, 2014

The modern way of asserting food choices is no longer, it seems, buying what you want that fits your preference and budget. It seems too often, generate a fear, suggest a solution (whether a good one or not) and get a mob of people to increase pressure until things change. “FoodBabe” does this quite successfully and it’s safe to say makes more money than we do being honest. Chik-Fil-A and other restaurants relay what is perceived as demand, or sometimes what just avoids being targeted.

Unfortunately that doesn’t make those large companies buy from us any more than you buy from us, a small farm that people say they want to support. Many things brought up affect both large and small farms, and when it comes to food safety it behooves ALL of us to work together without fear factor issues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the latest is antibiotics in food. As poultry producers of all sizes strive to improve health and safety of eating poultry, this presents challenges. Many point to Europe. There’s a huge point many don’t see.In the USA everything is categorized – and ionophores, which aid in digestion or treat things that the public say they want treated (such as, in cattle, methane reduction!), had been classified as antibiotics. These aren’t things humans use, nor does it affect the way penicillin and other things are used in the system. In chickens, an example of an ionophore is coccidiostats.

The way other countries classify things is not necessarily the same way that we do here in the USA. This might not make sense to folks who just eat and just want clean food.

From a recent online article trade magazine Watt Poultry USA:

A European producer said the ban on the use of so-called growth-promoting antibiotics has not restricted the use of ionophore coccidiostats. He said that ionophores have been helpful not just for controlling coccidiosis, but also for the antibacterial affect that they have in the gut of the bird. The definition of what constitutes antibiotic-free broiler production in the U.S. has evolved. The USDA considers ionophores to be antibiotics as well as anti-coccidials, so they are not allowed to be used in growing programs for birds that will be labeled as “raised without antibiotics.” According to industry sources, Chick-fil-A’s antibiotic free standards will not allow for the use of chemical coccidiostats/coccidiocides of any kind.

European farmers can also use chemical coccidiostats, not so with US. Everything from the shell to surroundings can affect chicks.

Let’s back up a minute because many may not understand the connections here. Ionophores are used to make maximum use of feed and resources. In chickens, coccidiostats are misunderstood as something only large farms are concerned with. Coccidia is in the environment around us, in the soil – and our outdoor birds have contact with that environment.

From the Merck manual:

Coccidiosis is caused by protozoa of the phylum Apicomplexa, family Eimeriidae. In poultry, most species belong to the genus Eimeria and infect various sites in the intestine. The infectious process is rapid (4–7 days) and is characterized by parasite replication in host cells with extensive damage to the intestinal mucosa. Poultry coccidia are generally host-specific, and the different species parasitize specific parts of the intestine.

Coccidiosis is a killer. Young chicks, turkeys, ducklings and goslings with an overload of coccidia fail to thrive, lose weight and die. This is just as true outside as confined. Coccidia is in the system, but when it reaches a tipping point and continues unchecked, it’s a killer. In officialspeak:

Signs of coccidiosis range from decreased growth rate to a high percentage of visibly sick birds, severe diarrhea, and high mortality. Feed and water consumption are depressed. Weight loss, development of culls, decreased egg production, and increased mortality may accompany outbreaks. Mild infections of intestinal species, which would otherwise be classed as subclinical, may cause depigmentation and potentially lead to secondary infection, particularly Clostridium spp infection. Survivors of severe infections recover in 10–14 days but may never recover lost performance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe treatment for this or, better, prevention, is a 3 or 5 day dose in the water. When we can make that big of a difference for the lifetime of a layer bird, why wouldn’t we? Broilers are easier, but the ability to treat sick birds is important, and with sick birds you can figure everyone else is exposed and affected. Do we let them grow less efficiently, meaning more birds must be raised, or make the most of the birds raised? Treatment can be by several options in feed or water, insuring that all birds get treated.

Remember – European farmers can use this! Because of regulation, that would not be the case with US birds whose farmers must choose between market or birds…or dishonesty, because no antibiotics are tested in any meat as is.

Most consumers want to know that we treat birds well. They want to know that birds have feed, water, humane care…unless that means using coccidia or other treatments to insure their health and going forward. By the time illness is seen, it’s too late to prevent damage – is that humane? With a known risk, I don’t think it is. Especially with a high chance of dying when it’s seen.

Prophylactic use is preferred, because most of the damage occurs before signs become apparent and because drugs cannot completely stop an outbreak. Therapeutic treatments are usually given by water because of the logistical restraints of feed administration. Antibiotics and increased levels of vitamins A and K are sometimes used in the ration to improve rate of recovery and prevent secondary infections.

When farms resist this it’s not because it’s always used – it’s because it’s a tool that can be used…until it’s forbidden while saying take care of birds! I tried no coccidia treatment – the chicks died. A preventable thing resulted in death. I vowed to not let it happen again even to be able to say no medication. It doesn’t matter if there’s not a bird to sell.


I hope that everyone reading this will really think about the choices here. If there’s truly an interest in better care, don’t take away the tools with what we do it. And don’t give European farmers a pass while judging us…allowing them to use what we’re judged for. We want healthy birds. We want paid for delivering those to the market be it from our farm to your freezer or a truckload of birds headed to a Tyson processor.


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