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Organic Chickens Are The Way to Go

Would you consider buying chicken laden with antibiotics and pesticides if you knew how sick you could get by eating it? If you're a regular reader of my blog, however, you're probably aware of all the evidence suggesting the poultry industry's use of antibiotics promotes a resistance among food borne bacteria that infect humans.

But you may not know one antibiotic-resistant strain of Campylobacter, a pathogen common to chicken products, is responsible for inducing food poisoning in more than 1 million Americans annually and is considered a growing health threat. A new study by Johns Hopkins found chickens raised without the use of antibiotics are less likely to carry antibiotic-resistant strains of Campylobacter.

Researchers tested chicken products from conventional manufacturers (Tyson and Perdue) and antibiotic-free producers (Bell & Evans and Eberly) all of whom claim to have stopped using fluoroquinolones (FQs), a class of antimicrobials used to control the bacterium Escherichia coli in broiler chickens. (By the way, the FDA is considering a recall of the last remaining FQs initially approved for use due to concerns it contributes to microbial resistance.)

The results were not at all surprising:

  • Producers that abstained from using FQs decreased the likelihood of Campylobacter contamination in their products.
  • Conventionally-grown chicken products were up to 460 times more likely to carry resistant strains than their antibiotic-free counterparts.
  • FQ resistance in conventional chicken products persisted for one year after its industrial use was stopped.

I suspect studies like this one probably had much to do with a growing number of fast-food restaurants now offering healthier foods, including organic, free-range chicken.

But there's a lingering misconception among many that buying such foods is way too expensive, even if they enhance your health. That's why I strongly recommend reviewing Colleen Huber's excellent piece about finding organic foods for the same price as processed foods, or less.

Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 113, Number 5, May 2005: 557-560

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