Poultry industry faces more regulation
of Article: http://www.delmarvanow.com/article/20090805/DW05/908040323
MILLSBORO-- Poultry producers in
Delaware could face new regulations and a smaller medicine chest as a
result of proposals making their way through Congress.
One bill -- the Food Safety
Enhancement Act of 2009 -- would boost the Food and Drug Administration's
powers, potentially giving the agency oversight of on-farm production.
Another proposal calls for
limiting certain uses of antibiotics in farm animals, addressing
longstanding concerns that their overuse in livestock contributes to the
development of drug-resistant bacteria.
The measures reflect the new
attitude in Washington, as the pendulum swings toward more regulation in a
number of industries. Several recent foodborne disease outbreaks have
helped spur efforts to overhaul the nation's food safety system.
Farm interests in Delaware and
elsewhere worry these measures will drive up costs and do little to improve
"Whatever comes down the
pike, we will live with it," said Delmar poultry farmer Sam Slabaugh.
"Ultimately, the consumer's going to pay."
The Preservation of Antibiotics
for Medical Treatment Act has been considered in previous years, but this
year it has the Obama administration's support. The bill seeks to end the
practice of feeding antibiotics to healthy livestock to promote growth.
In 2005, the nonprofit
Environmental Defense claimed that Delaware and Sussex County -- the top
broiler chicken-producing county in the country -- led the nation in
per-acre use of antibiotic feed additives, although industry groups
questioned the study's methodology. The government does not collect data on
antibiotic use in farm animals, so most studies of the topic rely on
The concern among some scientists
and interest groups is that sustained, low doses of antibiotics also used
to treat humans -- like penicillin or erythromycin -- help create bacteria
that are resistant to the drugs.
It's a disputed question what role
agriculture plays in antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are used heavily in
humans, too, which undoubtedly contributes to the problem.
But the nonprofit Union of
Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of the antibiotics used in
the United States are fed to poultry, swine and cattle for purposes other
than treating sick animals.
The poultry industry argues that
there is no evidence to connect the use of antibiotics in animal production
with the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.
Elizabeth Krushinskie, director of
quality assurance and food safety for Millsboro-based Mountaire Farms, said
the majority of antibiotic treatments given to chickens are not used in
humans. When antibiotics are used, they are administered
"judiciously" and according to strict FDA regulations, she said.
Salisbury, Md.-based Perdue Farms
has a policy against using antibiotics for growth promotion in its
chickens, although the company thinks they are a "valuable animal
health tool" when used according to veterinary guidelines, said Perdue
spokeswoman Julie DeYoung.
Slabaugh, who raises about 90,000
chickens for Perdue at his Delmar farm, said he had to change his
production methods when Perdue stopped using antibiotics in its feed about
six years ago. The additives made his chickens "thrifty and
hardier," Slabaugh said.
Without the antibiotics,
"they're much more sensitive and receptive to challenges," he
The bill in Congress would ban the
agricultural use of some antibiotics used in humans and restrict the use of
other antibiotics. A House panel heard testimony on the measure earlier
this month, including support from an FDA deputy commissioner.