Natural Foods Merchandiser

Nonorganic chicken producers in a flap over FDA ruling

Baytril, the veterinary antibiotic widely used to treat infections in conventionally produced chickens, was banned in early August by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It seems unlikely, however, that this will spur chicken farmers to transition to natural production and increase competition in the naturals market.

?It will not [have] a large impact, but we think it is an unfortunate decision because where it is needed and appropriate, it is basically the only medication that really works, and there?s really no alternative to it,? said Richard Loeb, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council.

While Baytril is effective in treating respiratory infections in chickens, the Campylobacter organism, which lives benignly in the intestinal tracts of chickens, becomes resistant to the drug. ?These resistant bacteria multiply in the digestive tracts of poultry and persist and spread through transportation and slaughter, and are found on chicken carcasses in slaughter plants and retail poultry meats,? FDA stated in a news release.

When people eat chickens that harbor Campylobacter, they become ill. ?More than a million people annually suffer from infections caused by Campylobacter,? the FDA noted in its decision to ban Baytril. Because the bacteria are already resistant to antibiotics, the illness becomes very difficult to treat, and people may develop serious complications such as arthritis and life-threatening blood infections.

An FDA spokesman said the poultry industry has alternative antimicrobials available. ?The use of any antimicrobial can create the risk of the development of resistant bacteria,? he said. However, FDA?s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System alerts the government to the development of resistant bacteria in food-producing animals, he said. In addition, ?Baytril for poultry is a water-soluble drug and is administered to an entire house of birds when a few are ill. Therefore, we suspect that resistance developed easily to this drug.?

Loeb said that while other drugs do exist, they?re less effective. If chickens develop colibacillosis—the infection the drug is used to treat in breeder hens—the disease ?can virtually wipe out a flock,? he said. ?The companies are more concerned about the loss of these breeder birds because you keep them longer. These are valuable birds because they?re laying the eggs that become the broilers.?

Nonetheless, he said, only about 1 percent to 2 percent of flocks are treated with Baytril, so the FDA decision is unlikely to convince major chicken producers to go all-natural or organic. ?There?s just not as much use of antibiotics as there used to be, and that?s just due to better animal husbandry and better animal housing.?

Baytril has been in use since 1996. In 2000, the FDA moved to ban the drug after concerns were raised about the drug?s safety. Bayer, the maker of the antibiotic, appealed the motion, but the appeal culminated in the Aug. 1 decision to disallow the use of Baytril. Unless Bayer appeals this decision, the ban takes effect Sept. 12.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 15

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