I recently wrote about how Perdue, a large producer of chicken products in the United States, has greatly reduced its use of antibiotics. This is a giant step forward in the industry, as antibiotic resistance is becoming a huge problem, prompting warnings from health care advocates. 

But the problem has also forced producers to come up with better ways of keeping their chickens healthy. In Perdue's case, the company focused on making sure the eggs came from healthy chickens, and that workers kept them spotlessly clean. All good, common sense solutions. 

But I was intrigued when I read the NPR report on another way the company is increasing the health of its chickens: probiotics. I found this so interesting because when I have worked with naturally-minded MDs, they have advocated this for humans as well. The idea is that if we have adequate and healthy gut bacteria, we are less likely to succumb to infections that require antibiotics. The approach has been helpful for my health. While this is a widespread practice among alternative care health providers, there are limited studies on the topic. 

However, it seems to be working well for chickens! As reported at NPR, Bruce Stewart-Brown, an executive of Perdue Farms, had this to say about the use of probiotics in chickens, “Eight years ago, I would have said that they're not working in poultry. They're not very useful. Today, I'm saying that they are useful. Expensive, but useful.” And "As we took antibiotics out of the feed, we put some other things in, such as probiotics. We've increased the amount of probiotics by five times over the past five years. It's a significant part of our program."

Of course, this isn’t the only part of their program; the company also removed animal products from the chicken feed, among other things. But the antibiotics are a significant part of the company's program — and it once again demonstrates the power of probiotics.

An interesting side effect of the probiotics is that these chickens also grew at a slower rate. That increases the company's cost as well, but Perdue will continue to produce chickens this way as long as consumers are willing to pay a little extra. The ultimate way to raise healthy chickens, in my opinion, is to let them forage in the great outdoors, but this is an excellent step in the right direction for factory raised chickens. 

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Related on MNN:

How probiotics are making chickens healthier
Perdue is looking into new ways to keep chickens healthy without antibiotics. Probiotics are an important part of the solution.