2 potential antibiotic alternatives for use in poultry

The search for an alternative to antibiotics to treat poultry diseases could be over. Advances in research identified several possible replacement therapies.

Doughman Headshot3 Headshot
doctor examining chicken. Vet concept
doctor examining chicken. Vet concept
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) a possible replacement for poultry antibiotics. (Courtesy Big Dutchman)

The search for an alternative to antibiotics could be over. Recent advances in research identified several possible replacement therapies.

Antibiotic scrutiny

Antibiotic use in poultry and other livestock is under scrutiny due to growing antibiotic resistance and consumer concerns. Resistance, when bacteria develops the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them, can devastate poultry flocks and affect the livelihood of farmers. In addition, a growing number of poultry producers are pledging to raise birds antibiotic-free or with no antibiotics ever in response to these concerns.

As a result, sales of antibiotic and antimicrobial drugs decreased. Domestic sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobial drugs approved for use in food-producing animals decreased by 3% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a December 2021 report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine.


Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) a possible replacement for poultry antibiotics.

“AMPs are part of the immune system of every living organism,” Inanc Birol, chief scientific officer at Amphoraxe Life Sciences Inc., said during WATT Global Media's Poultry Tech Webinar Series. “But sometimes an organism is in need of extra help.”

AMPs can target and kill a broad spectrum of pathogens and bacteria, including medically important antibiotic-resistant strains, without toxicity against animal cells. They can be formulated as additives in feed or water, topical products and for in ovo injection. 

Inanc BirolAntimicrobial peptides (AMPs) a possible replacement for poultry antibiotics. (Courtesy Big Dutchman)


Unlike conventional antibiotics, AMPs do not trigger resistance to medically important drugs and don’t persist in meat or wastewater, which could make them a safe alternative to preventing and treating bacterial diseases in the post-antibiotic era.

Birol’s lab discovered AMPs using genomic technologies. First, they obtain the DNA and RNA strain of a species to identify an AMPs genetical sequence. Potential AMPs are tested against a range of bacterial species, including antibiotic resistant strains.

“To date, we have discovered over 1,000 (unique) AMP species, and we are at various stages of validation for these,” Birol said. “The animal experiments for additional trials are going to start next year.”

Amphoraxe Life Sciences is currently seeking regulatory approval for the use of AMPs in poultry.


Phytogenics, a group of natural growth promoters used as a feed additive, are another possible alternative. 

“They are mainly something that is made from a raw extraction of plants and that are shown to have an effect on growth promotion,” Dr. Carl Julien, a researcher at the Deschambault Animal Science Research Centre (CSRAD), said. “Phytogenics can now also be used as an alternative to antibiotics and other drugs.”

Carl JulienCarl Julien, CSRAD (Courtesy CSRAD)


Recent studies show phytogenics like chili powder, black pepper, ginger, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, ginger and rosemary can positively impact both growth performance and antimicrobial effects in broilers. They are available as an oil, powder or liquid, depending on the plant extraction.

“I’ve been working on alternatives for anti-coccidials for years now,” Julien said. “I think it’s possible to have the same level of effects with just phytogenics and without any drugs in the feed.”

The growth promoter can provide antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, hepatoprotective and diuretic qualities, depending on the plant used and the final product extracted. Phytogenics could improve welfare by decreasing environmental stress, morbidity and mortality, according to recent studies from Julien and others.

More investigation is needed before the use of phytogenics becomes generalized in commercial poultry facilities. If successful, phytogenics could be a crucial component for managing flock health.


Meta-analysis gives researchers a robust tool to assist with the search for antibiotic alternatives. This approach assimilates data from multiple studies and performs statistical analysis to help researchers look at common trends in published studies.

“Meta-analysis allows us to combine the results from multiple studies and to highlight-modulating factors that have not necessarily been studied (e.g., impact of the dietary energy or amino acids supply, impact of age, impact of genetic lines, impact of raising conditions, etc.),” Marie-Pierre Létourneau Montminy, an associate professor at Université Laval, said.

This approach improves precision and the ability to take a step back and look at overall trends as opposed to the results of individual studies. However, it is important to know the data or a meta-analysis can provide misleading results.

“On the topic of alternatives to antibiotics, meta-analysis is biased by the fact that we can assume that mostly only conclusive studies are published,” she said.

Using meta-analysis, Létourneau Montminy surveyed the literature on antibiotic approaches and found that probiotics, prebiotics, organic acids and phytogenics all have significant and positive impacts on the growth performance of poultry.

Page 1 of 181
Next Page