Earning producer trust is key to antibiotic studies

Overall antibiotic usage in the U.S. poultry industry decreased significantly over the last 10 years, according to a recently updated report published by the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY).

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Overall antibiotic usage in the U.S. poultry industry decreased significantly in the past decade, according to a recent report published by the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY).

While USPOULTRY’s data findings in the current study are important, they were expected. All medically important antibiotic drug uses for production were withdrawn or transitioned to veterinary oversight, per Food and Drug Association (FDA) guidances #209, #213 and the FDA Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) implemented about 10 years ago.

The purpose of the study was to demonstrate producer commitment to antibiotic stewardship and disease prevention in poultry, according to USPOULTRY President John Starkey, Dr. Denise Heard, USPOULTRY's, vice president of research programs, and Dr. Randall Singer, founder of Mindwalk Consulting Group, LLC.

Denise Heard(Courtesy U.S. Poultry & Egg Association)Denise Heard, USPOULTRY (Courtesy U.S. Poultry & Egg Association)


“Antibiotics are an incredibly valuable resource for human and veterinary medicine. We need to make sure we're using them responsibly and one way to do that is to understand how they're being used on farm,” Singer said. “The success of this study is not focused on the large reductions in antibiotic usage that we found, but on the participation level of producers.”

The report, released in December 2022, encompasses a nine-year set of data collected from 2013 to 2021 for U.S. broiler chickens and turkeys. An additional six-year set of data set was collected from 2016 to 2021 for layers.

“One of the huge benefits of this project is it allows us to identify the diseases in each of these three commodities that result in the majority of antibiotic use, and that gives us a target,” Singer said. “Many people are focused on reducing the use. I say that we should be reducing our need.”

White Chickens Drinking Water(Polawat.klin | BigStock.com)As producers grow more confident in the data, the study's authors expect a higher participation level. (Polawat.klin | BigStock.com)


Unique framework

After the industry learned about the FDA guidances, USPOULTRY took initiative in demonstrating the industry’s responsible antibiotic usage, Heard said.

“The guidances were one of the initial pushes for the research,” Heard said “We wanted to be transparent and show that the poultry industry is proactive to the new rules that were coming out.”

Due to the sensitivity of poultry producer antibiotic data, USPOULTRY contracted Singer and his team to privately collect medically important antibiotic usage data from broiler, turkey and layer companies. Medically important antibiotics are those that are important for treating human disease. 

The antibiotics Singer collected data on include penicillin, lincomycin, tetracycline, sulfonamide and neomycin.

Starkey John(Courtesy U.S. Poultry & Egg Association)John Starkey, USPOULTRY (Courtesy U.S. Poultry & Egg Association)


The data covers 85% of U.S. annual chicken production, 70% of turkey and 45% of layer. Key data points from the research include:

  • Broiler chickens receiving antibiotics in the hatchery decreased to 0% (2021) from 90% (2013). 
  • Medically important in-feed antibiotic use in broiler chickens decreased substantially: There was no reported in-feed tetracycline use in 2020 or 2021, and virginiamycin use decreased more than 97% over the nine-year period.
  • Turkeys receiving antibiotics in the hatchery decreased to 40% (2021) from 97% (2013). 
  • Medically important in-feed antibiotic use in turkeys decreased substantially: In-feed tetracycline use decreased more than 80% over the nine-year period.

“We knew that the numbers were going to show dramatic reductions because we collected the data from 2013 to 2021,” Singer said. "The increase in no antibiotics ever (NAE) production has increased. Currently our estimates are around 50% of chicken is raised NAE."

According to Starkey, broilers and turkeys were the primary focus, and have the longest timeframes in the study, due to vertical integration making the data collection process easier. Layer production was added to the study later.

Industry trust

A key piece to the success was building trust between producers, USPOULTRY and Singer’s data collection and reporting process.

“Even though the industry fears this information can be used against them, it has been open to working with us and providing data, as long as we are able to keep it confidential,” Heard said.

In the beginning of the study, producers were concerned if USPOULTRY and Singer’s team would be able to collect the data in a protected format and report it in a way that accurately shows how antibiotics are being used on poultry farms.

However, trust has only grown over time as companies become more comfortable with the data collection process, Singer said.

“We have worked hard since the beginning to ensure transparency in the process and that there is oversight by an unrelated agency, like U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), who helps audit some of the data. It's critical that the data is trusted,” Singer said.

As producers grow more confident and see the data published in a scientific journal, Starkey expects a higher participation level.

“We have a positive outlook on increasing participation as we continue with the survey," Heard said. "We think that as we move to publishing the survey results annually, we'll have more industry participating in it.”

Randall Singer(Courtesy U.S. Poultry & Egg Association)Randall Singer, Mindwalk Consulting 


Poultry is a leader

So far, the poultry industry is the only sector with enough participation to publish a report of this nature.

“What we have accomplished could be a model for the other commodities, as the FDA is trying to figure out a system for collecting data at the national level," Singer said "With that said, every industry is different, and every commodity is going to have its own challenges.

"We don't have to work with too many companies to get a majority of poultry production.” 

By understanding how antibiotics are being used by producers, the industry can find the unnecessary applications, which will reduce its antibiotic usage. This will ensure they are effective when needed.

“We want to make sure that we're using the antibiotics responsibly. We use the antibiotics when they are needed for treating or controlling disease.” Singer sai. “I want to know that we're using antibiotics when needed and that veterinarians have options for handling diseased birds.” 

“One reason the poultry industry has grown so much is because we've always been willing to embrace new challenges and learn from science. That has pushed us into a more sustainable and safer food supply,” Starkey said.

US Poultry releases antibiotic stewardship report www.WATTAgNet.com/articles/46365

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