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Standard Devised to Cut Poultry Antibiotic Use

Chicken flock

(Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

7 May 2015. An organization of school districts in the U.S., joined by the Pew Charitable Trusts and U.S. Department of Agriculture, wrote a set of guidelines to reduce the use of antibiotics in raising chickens destined for school feeding programs. Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest producer of chickens, also revealed today it is adopting the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use standard, with one its production facilities passing a USDA audit based on that standard.

Antibiotics are used to treat disease in farm animals and reduce food-borne pathogens, but some producers of meat and poultry also add antibiotics to feed and water to encourage weight gain. More antibiotics fed to farm animals, however, also contribute to increased occurrence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Food and Drug Administration, for example, began a voluntary plan with industry in December 2013 to phase out use of some antibiotics in food production.

The Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use standard is a response to the problem devised by the Pew Charitable Trusts and School Food FOCUS, short for Food Options for Children in the United States, an organization that aims to harness the buying power of school districts to increase the nutritional value of food served in public schools. School Food FOCUS established a consortium of 15 school districts with some 2.3 million children that purchases $36 million in chicken each year, to exercise this buying power in establishing the antibiotic standard.

The standard aims to restrict the use in chickens of antibiotics with analogues in human medical care strictly to therapeutic purposes. Even when administered as therapies, veterinarian prescriptions are required, with records maintained for future audits. Antibiotics under the standard are also prohibited before hatching.

A key part of the standard, say its developers, is the auditing performed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. One of the agency’s divisions carries out quality system audits, and a checklist of practices related to the standard is added to these inspections. Standard-related audits cover practices in the producers’ feed mills, hatcheries, and grow-out farms where the birds are raised.

At a news conference today announcing the standard, Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken producer said its production facility at New Holland, Pennsylvania passed a USDA audit on 7 April that applied the standard. The company says the New Holland facility is its largest producer of chicken products for school lunches. Tyson Foods announced last month it plans to phase out human-analog antibiotics in its U.S. broiler chickens by 2017, and already ended all antibiotics in its broiler hatcheries.

In response to a question from Science and Enterprise, Kathy Lawrence, director of strategic development at School Food FOCUS, said the standard can also be applied to small and medium-sized producers, as well as giants like Tyson Foods. Lawrence added that a medium-sized chicken producer is scheduled for an audit under the standard.

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