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Researchers Find Evidence of Banned Antibiotics in Poultry Products

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Factory Farming & Food Safety page and our Health Issues page.

In a joint study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and Arizona State University found evidence suggesting that a class of antibiotics previously banned by the U.S. government for poultry production is still in use. Results of the study are published in Environmental Science & Technology.

The study, conducted by the CLF and Arizona State's Biodesign Institute, looked for drugs and other residues in feather meal, a common additive to chicken, swine, cattle and fish feed. The most important drugs found in the study were fluoroquinolones-broad spectrum antibiotics used to treat serious bacterial infections in people, particularly those infections that have become resistant to older antibiotic classes. The banned drugs were found in 8 of 12 samples of feather meal in a multi-state study. The findings were a surprise to scientists because fluoroquinolone use in U.S. poultry production was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005.

This is the first time investigators have examined feather meal, a byproduct of poultry production made from poultry feathers, to determine what drugs poultry may have received prior to their slaughter and sale.

The annual per capita human consumption of poultry products is approximately 100 pounds, greater than that of any other animal- or vegetable-derived protein source in the U.S. To satisfy this demand, each year, the U.S. poultry industry raises nearly 9 billion broiler chickens and 247 million turkeys, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  A large percentage of the fresh weight of these animals is inedible-an estimated 33 percent for chickens, for example-and is recycled for other uses, including feather meal.

The rendering industry, which converts animal byproducts into a wide range of materials, processes poultry feathers into feather meal, which is often added as a supplement to poultry, pig, ruminant, and fish feeds or sold as an "organic" fertilizer.  In a companion study, researchers found inorganic arsenic in feather meal used in retail fertilizers.