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US poultry producers slash use of medically important antimicrobials while shifting focus to disease prevention

This scientific report was supported by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY).

by 5m Editor
10 September 2019, at 9:00am

US poultry producers drastically reduced their use of medically important antimicrobials over a five-year period ending in 2017, according to a new report released by Randall Singer, DVM, PhD, Mindwalk Consulting Group, LLC.

“What made this special was that participation in the study was voluntary but nevertheless extensive,” Singer told Poultry Health Today.

For example, he noted, the 2017 data represented more than 7.5 billion chickens and 160 million turkeys - approximately 90 percent of annual US chicken production and 80% of annual US turkey production, based on a list of major US poultry companies compiled by WATT PoultryUSA.

Key changes among broiler chickens over the 5-year period show:

  • Broiler chickens receiving antimicrobials in the hatchery decreased from 93 percent to 17 percent.
  • Hatchery gentamicin use decreased approximately 74 percent.
  • Medically important in-feed antimicrobial use in broiler chickens decreased by as much as 95 percent (tetracycline).
  • Medically important water-soluble antimicrobial use in broiler chickens decreased by as much as 72 percent (sulfonamide).
  • There was a documented shift to the use of antimicrobials considered not medically important to humans by FDA (e.g., avilamycin and bacitracin).

Key changes among turkeys over the 5-year period show:

  • Turkeys receiving antimicrobials in the hatchery decreased from 96 percent to 41 percent.
  • Hatchery gentamicin use decreased approximately 42 percent.
  • Medically important in-feed antimicrobial use in turkeys decreased as much as 67 percent (tetracycline).
  • Medically important water-soluble antimicrobial use decreased substantially. For example:
    penicillin 42 percent, tetracycline 28 percent, lincomycin 46 percent, neomycin 49 percent, erythromycin 65percent.

Given several key differences among broiler chickens and turkeys - namely differences in weight, life span, susceptibility to lifetime illness and the number of effective medical therapies available - the data from broiler chickens and turkeys should neither be combined nor compared, USPOULTRY said.

The report cited several reasons for the downturn in antimicrobial use:

  • Changes in FDA regulations, which were fully implemented in January 2017, effectively eliminated the use of medically important antimicrobials for production purposes and also required veterinary supervision for in-feed and water-soluble medically important antimicrobial uses in poultry production.
  • Poultry companies’ continued focus on hygiene practices, nutrition and vaccine use to prevent disease, thereby reducing the need to address disease with antimicrobials.
  • Improved recordkeeping of all antimicrobial administrations, which is a key component of antimicrobial stewardship.

Furthermore, the report noted, the broiler-chicken and turkey industries have increased the production of animals raised without antimicrobials.

Voluntary but extensive

The data were compiled under the research direction of Singer and looked at antimicrobial use in broiler chickens and turkeys from hatchery to day of harvest. The report was prepared through a systematic collection of on-farm antimicrobial-use data to capture the disease indications and routes of administration through which antimicrobials were given to the poultry.

“This research is the first step in determining how antimicrobials are used in the entire poultry-production system of the US, and to succeed, we need participation from the majority of companies. We couldn’t be more pleased with the response of the poultry industry,” said John Glisson, DVM, PhD, vice president of research, USPOULTRY.

Antimicrobials still needed

He cautioned there are still serious diseases - e.g., necrotic enteritis, gangrenous dermatitis and colibacillosis - for which the poultry industry has few effective interventions. When birds get sick from these diseases, they must receive antimicrobial therapy.

Glisson said that “driving good antimicrobial stewardship in poultry, as opposed to simple documentation of reduced use, is our end goal for the best outcomes for both the people and the poultry.”

Moving forward, Singer will continue the annual collection of data from the broiler-chicken and turkey industries and will begin collecting data from the US table-egg industry. The new data are expected to provide greater clarity about antimicrobial use in individual flocks.

“We expect even more detailed data on flock antimicrobial usage and recordkeeping in the years ahead, which thoroughly supports USPOULTRY efforts to ensure proper stewardship of medications,” Glisson said.

Click here to see the report.

Click here to see the infographic prepared by USPOULTRY.