Pièce de Résistance – The real sCOOP on antibiotic use in poultry …why less is not always better

  |   One Health

Since the implementation of the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) in January 2017, medical health professionals, veterinarians, producers, pharmaceutical companies, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders have been working together to promote judicious antibiotic use in food animals to prevent resistance.

The poultry industry has been very proactive in this regard, and had already eliminated some medically important human antibiotics from their arsenal. However, “no antibiotics ever” or similar label claims can sometimes be misleading and detrimental to animal health and welfare.

So what can be done to help prevent antimicrobial resistance, protect animal health, and ensure a safe and wholesome food supply?

  • Bottom line: There is no substitute for using best management practices when it comes to raising poultry. Healthy diets, adequate ventilation, clean water and housing, targeted vaccination programs, and biosecurity go a long way in keeping birds healthy.
  • Antibiotics should only be used for prevention, control and treatment of disease, not growth promotion. This requires a valid patient / client relationship and veterinary oversight. Certain diseases, such as coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis (Clostridium perfringens) can be extremely devastating and costly to the commercial poultry industry. The use of ionophores can help keep coccidiosis at bay, and they are not used in human medicine or considered antibiotics. Any increases in feed conversion are a secondary benefit due to intestinal function and integrity. If necrotic enteritis does happen to occur, antibiotics such as bacitracin, penicillin, and lincomycin can be prescribed and dispensed in the drinking water.
  • Like humans, sick poultry deserve appropriate treatment to heal and prevent suffering. Failure to do so not only affects the bird’s health and welfare, but potentially the health of the entire flock. Restricting the use of antibiotics in these instances may affect performance, increase mortality, decrease food safety, limit feed conversion / growth, and result in more labor intensive management practices. Of note: “Organic” poultry who become ill and require antibiotics are transferred to other food production systems.
  • Unfortunately, many consumers still believe that they are ingesting hormones and antibiotics when they eat chicken, and that it contributes to antimicrobial resistance. Hormones are not used in poultry production and the industry is committed to ensuring the safety of its products by observing manufacturer suggested drug and antibiotic withdrawal times prior to harvest.

Keeping these ideas in mind, education goes a long way in helping consumers understand judicious use of antibiotics in animals and how it keeps their food safe. Not only is it important to realize how health officials and industry are collaborating to reduce antimicrobial resistance, people can do their part by washing their hands, handling food in a safe manner, and cooking meat at proper temperatures.


  1. Avian Insight (by Full Value Poultry). 2016. Antibiotic Use in Poultry Today-Elanco. E. Heskett, DVM, PhD, ACPV, K. Keffaber, DVM.
  3. National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA). 2017. Antibiotic Symposium 2017 White Paper. Sanderson Farms presentation, A Batal, DVM.
  5. North American Meat Institute (NAMI). The Facts About Antibiotics in Livestock and Poultry Production – Sort Fact from Fiction.

Pièce de Résistance is a monthly message on antimicrobial stewardship brought to you by WSVMA’s One Health Workgroup.


Posted June 14, 2019