The use of antibiotics is one of the growing challenges in producing safe animal protein today, and everyone is watching chicken production.

It is estimated that 20 percent of food is lost to animal diseases. That means we need to protect our food sources. But, without antibiotics?

Production without antibiotics was the main topic during the first day of the Ceva Poultry Vaccinology Summit on March 14 in Barcelona, Spain. Dr. Ashley Peterson, vice president of science and technology of the National Chicken Council (NCC), spoke about the U.S. perspective. It is noteworthy to mention that the NCC represents 95 percent of the chickens produced in that country and that 22 percent of U.S. chickens are exported.

Of the total number of chickens produced in the U.S., 10 to 15 percent are already produced antibiotic-free and 40 percent with a restricted use. Antibiotic-free (ABF) production, also known as NAE (no antibiotics ever), may include these compounds if birds become sick, but chickens must be commercialized differently.

We may be filled with acronyms, but Dr. Peterson said that, "If the label does not have these acronyms, the consumer believes that the chicken does have antibiotics, which is not the case."

However, there is an issue we should take into account that, if chickens get sick, there is an obligation to administer antibiotics, from the ethical and animal welfare point of view.

Dr. Peterson also asked who among the various actors – consumers, legislators/government, retailers, industry – is leading the industry? Because apparently the industry that uses poultry products succumbs to pressure from consumer groups, not based on scientific facts and without consulting the industry to see if it is economically feasible.

Another important point is that most antibiotics used in animal production are not used in human medicine, nor are human antibiotics used to promote growth.

However, despite all this, "Every day there are more companies that want to be supplied antibiotic-free chicken."

Another important aspect is that because of the different terms used, there is much confusion among consumers, which adds on to the ignorance. For example, according to a study conducted by the NCC, the consumer believes antibiotics are used "because of mishandling or to promote growth," which is not the case.

Finally, Dr. Peterson spoke about the impact of eliminating antibiotics in production, for which there are four key points:

  • Mortality
  • Days to market
  • Downtime
  • Stocking density

Among the various things she talked about, she mentioned that one antibiotic-free chicken house may represent 300 fewer people fed in a year. Seeing this, we can not forget sustainability, and also animal welfare, as there will be more moisture in the bed and can present health problems such as necrotic enteritis.

What are the future trends? She pointed out three specific things: the use of coccidiosis vaccine, the development of alternative antibiotics and finally and to better use vaccines instead of antibiotics, for which "there must be innovation in animal health".

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