Many animals raised for consumption are given antibiotics. In the case of chickens, this antibiotic journey starts before chicks even hatch from their eggs.
This is how the usual process works. After the eggs have been incubated for 18 days, and are soon going to hatch, they go through an assembly line for vaccine and antibiotic injections. The vaccine is for a common chicken virus called Marek’s disease. The antibiotics are then injected into the chicks, not because they currently have any need of them, but because the hole poked into the shell from the vaccine injection now leaves the chicks vulnerable to any germs in the environment around them. It’s a preventative measure. This practice is even allowed in the production of organic chicken, according to a story about the process in NPR.
Health care experts have been giving increasing warnings that our overuse of antibiotics, specifically in the use of animals, could be leading to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that could then sicken humans. This could leave us sickened by bacteria that no longer can be treated with antibiotics — and that is a scary thought.
The problem with not injecting the eggs is that you can lose a significant amount of your flock if bacteria invades the shell before the chicks hatch. In fact, when Perdue first attempted to leave the antibiotics out 12 years ago, the company lost a good number of chicks.
Since then the company has learned, step-by-step how to prevent the loss of chicks from disease without the use of antibiotics. Now all 15 of their hatcheries have discontinued the use of injecting the hatching eggs with antibiotics.
Bruce Stewart-Brown, a veterinarian and senior vice president for Perdue, said that a lot of their current success has to do with making sure that the eggs are coming from healthy chickens and that they are clean when they arrive at the hatchery. This seems like a good, common-sense solution to a problem that has plagued chicken hatcheries for years. After hatching, Perdue sometimes still has to treat sick chicks with antibiotic treated feed, but this is minimal.
Public health advocates (and many consumers) will be happy that this leading company has made this important step towards less dependence on antibiotics, and hopefully a healthier future for both chicks and humans.
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