The U.S. Poultry & Egg Association has responded to the results of a recent study that found fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics banned for use in poultry, in feather meal, a poultry production byproduct that is made from poultry feathers and is a common additive to chicken, swine, cattle and fish feed.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University said they found the antibiotics in eight of 12 feather meal samples from different states, suggesting that the poultry received the fluoroquinolones before they were slaughtered. But USPOULTRY said that the U.S. commercial poultry industry hasn't used the class of antibiotics since they were banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005. In fact, ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin and ofloxacin found in this study — albeit at extremely low levels — have never been used in the U.S. poultry industry," said Dr. John Glisson, DVM, director of research programs for USPOULTRY. "The fact that they are evident in this study calls into question the source of the feather meal that was tested, potential cross-contamination with other products, and ultimately the scientific objectivity of the research since it implies continued use of fluoroquinolones that were never used by the poultry industry in the first place.”

Researchers said their results may explain why there are still high rates of fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter found on commercial poultry meat products. "With such a ban, you would expect a decline in resistance to these drugs," said study co-author Keeve Nachman. "The continued use of fluoroquinolones and unintended antibiotic contamination of poultry feed may help explain why high rates of fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter continue to be found on commercial poultry meat products over half a decade after the ban."

But the National Chicken Council questions this conclusion. "Antibiotics are used sparingly in chicken production, and only those that are approved for use by the FDA," said the organization. "A majority of the antibiotics used to treat and prevent disease in chickens are not used in human medicine, meaning the threat of creating resistance in humans is essentially reduced to zero." The group also said that they "and many in the medical, veterinary and agricultural fields question any substantive link or scientific basis between veterinary use of antibiotics and resistance in humans."