Poultry industry faces more regulation

Source of Article: http://www.delmarvanow.com/article/20090805/DW05/908040323

By Andrew Eder The News Journal August 5, 2009

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 food safety.

"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 estimates.

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 said.

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.




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