The cascade of foodservice outlet pledges to purchase only chicken from flocks that have been raised without antibiotics that started with Chick-fil-A's is causing a major shift in how broilers are raised in the United States. Dr. Steve Davis, DVM, Colorado Quality Research, said, “In my opinion, it (raised without antibiotics broiler production in the U.S.) won’t work without ionophores.” The problem, he explained, is that some antibiotic-free husbandry programs being mandated by customers are calling for “no antibiotics ever” and exclude the use of ionophores, a class of coccidiostats that also have antibacterial properties.

Davis told the audience at USPOULTRY’s Live Production & Welfare Seminar, in Nashville, “I fear this will make the U.S. broiler industry noncompetitive in the world market.” The research that Davis has conducted on necrotic enteritis, which has already become a major health problem in the U.S. broiler industry, has convinced him that prevention of this disease without access to antibiotics will be an even bigger problem for U.S. broiler producers as they move to reduce or eliminate antibiotic use in the future.

Davis speculated that broiler complexes in dry climates, which excludes most of the U.S. broiler belt, would have an advantage in antibiotic-free production because dry air helps keep litter dry and control coccidiosis in flocks and prevent necrotic enteritis from developing. He said that antibiotic-free production in the U.S. may only be feasible in some complexes with increased house cleanouts, perhaps as often as every flock, and houses might need to have concrete floors. Increased downtime between flocks, reduced bird densities in houses, and low-protein vegetarian diets may also be required, according to Davis.

 Antibiotic-free broiler production could be an “industry killer” for the U.S., according to Davis, and he questioned if it was sustainable. As a veterinarian, Davis said he finds that no antibiotics ever and raised without antibiotics growing programs are troubling. They are “not best for the chickens and not best for the chicken companies,” he said.