WASHINGTON -- More than two months after declaring the outbreak appeared to be over, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported an additional 43 people sickened by strains of Salmonella linked to Foster Farms chicken – more than 500 people have reportedly been infected in total. Sixty percent of the tested Salmonella taken from outbreak patients has been resistant to at least one commonly prescribed antibiotic.
Despite the ongoing outbreak, Foster Farms - headquartered in Livingston, CA - has never issued a recall or disclosed how it uses antibiotics in poultry production. Routine antibiotic use can trigger antibiotic resistance in bacteria that contaminate chicken eventually sold in stores. In January 2014, NRDC and several dozen other public interest groups sent a letter to CEO Ron Foster asking the company to disclose its antibiotic use and commit to only using antibiotics to treat sick birds, and not for routine use. NRDC has followed up with two additional letters seeking additional information on antibiotics use, and proposing to discuss the issue with Foster Farms, but has received no response.
“The spread of drug resistant bacteria throughout our communities and kitchens has threatened our health and contributed to the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance,” said Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s Food and Agriculture Program. “Foster Farms can start regaining its credibility by being transparent about how it raises its chickens and by committing to using antibiotics responsibly.”
Many poultry producers misuse and overuse antibiotics to make animals grow faster or for so-called “disease prevention” - a practice that is widely recognized by leading health organizations and scientists to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can make life-saving antibiotics less effective for humans. When antibiotics are used day after day at low doses to speed up animal growth or compensate for crowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions, some bacteria become resistant, multiply, and escape to threaten human health.
Antibiotic resistance in humans is a public health crisis, threatening the efficacy of many life-saving drugs. Leading health groups and medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Infectious Disease Society of America, have sounded the alarm, stating that “overuse and misuse of important antibiotics in food animals must end, in order to protect human health.” CDC recently confirmed the link between antibiotic use on livestock operations and the rise of antibiotic resistance in its report Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013, stating there is “strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans,” and warns of “potentially catastrophic consequences” if resistance is not slowed. The CDC also stated that “up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.”
Many poultry producers are already eliminating antibiotics completely through improved sanitation, probiotics, reduced crowding, better genetics and other sustainable production practices. A number of academic and government publications indicate that poultry producers can eliminate routine use of the antibiotics that are important for humans with very little cost.
For more information on the dangers of the misuse of antibiotics in meat and poultry production, see these related links:
- Playing Chicken with Antibiotics:
- Voluntary Guidance 213: FDA’s New Antibiotics Policy Fails to Protect Health
- Superbug Suit: Court Slams FDA on Antibiotics in Animal Feed…Again
- Court Orders FDA to Address Antibiotic Overuse in Livestock and Protect Effectiveness of Medicine for Humans http://www.nrdc.org/media/2012/120323.asp
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.