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US: Researchers find evidence of banned antibiotics in poultry products
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health Chris Stevens
In a joint study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and
Arizona State University found evidence suggesting that a class of antibiotics previously banned by the U.S. government for poultry production is still in use. Results of the study
were published March 21 in Environmental Science & Technology. The study, conducted by the Bloomberg School's Center for a Livable Future and Arizona State's Biodesign Institute, looked for drugs and other residues in feather meal, a common
additive to chicken, swine, cattle and fish feed. The most important drugs found in the study were fluoroquinolones—broad spectrum antibiotics used to treat serious bac-terial infections
in people, particularly those infections that have become resistant to old-er antibiotic classes. The banned drugs were found in 8 of 12 samples of feather meal in a multstate
study. The findings were a surprise to scientists because fluoroquinolone use in U.S. poultry production was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005.
This is the first time investigators have examined feather meal, a byproduct of poultry production made from poultry feathers, to determine what drugs poultry may have received prior to their slaughter and sale.
The annual per capita human consumption of poultry products is approximately 100 lbs, greater than that of any other animal- or vegetable-derived protein source in the U.S. To
satisfy this demand, each year, the U.S. poultry industry raises nearly 9 billion broiler chickens and 80 million turkeys, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A large
percentage of the fresh weight of these animals is inedible—an estimated 33 percent for chickens, for example—and is recycled for other uses, including feather meal.
The rendering industry, which converts animal byproducts into a wide range of materials, processes poultry feathers into feather meal, which is often added as a supplement to poultry, pig, ruminant, and fish feeds or sold as an "organic" fertilizer. In a companion
study, researchers found inorganic arsenic in feather meal used in retail fertilizers. "The discovery of certain antibiotics in feather meal strongly suggests the continued use of
these drugs, despite the ban put in place in 2005 by the FDA," said David Love, PhD, lead author of the report. "The public health community has long been frustrated with the
unwillingness of FDA to effectively address what antibiotics are fed to food animals." A primary reason for the 2005 FDA ban on the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry production
was an alarming increase in the rate of the fluoroquinolone resistance among Campylobacter bacteria. "In recent years, we've seen the rate of fluoroquinolone re-sistance slow, but not drop," noted study co-author Keeve Nachman, PhD, Farming for the Future
Program Director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. "With such a ban, you would expect a decline in resistance to these drugs. The continued use of fluoroquinolones
and unintended antibiotic contamination of poultry feed may help ex-plain why high rates of fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter continue to be found on commercial poultry meat
products over half a decade after the ban." In the U.S., antibiotics are introduced into the feed and water of industrially raised poutry,
primarily to make them grow faster, rather than to treat disease. An estimated 13.2 million kg of antibiotics were sold in 2009 to the U.S. poultry and livestock industries, which represented nearly 80 percent of all antibiotic sales for use in humans and animals in the
U.S. that year. In conducting the study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health and Arizona State University analyzed commercially available feather meal samples, acquired from six U.S. states and China, for a suite of 59 pharmaceuticals and personal care
products. All 12 samples tested had between 2 and 10 antibiotic residues. In addition to
antimicrobials, 7 other personal care products, including the pain reliever ac-etaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), the antihistamine diphenhydramine (the active ingredient
in Benadryl) and the antidepressant fluoxetine (the active ingredient in Prozac), were detected.
Researchers also found caffeine in 10 of 12 feather meal samples. "This study reveals yet another pathway of unwanted human exposure to a surprisingly broad spectrum of
prescription and over the counter drugs," noted study co-author Rolf Halden, PhD, PE, Co-Director of the Center for Health Information & Research, and Associate Director of the
Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at Arizona State University. When researchers exposed several strains of E. coli bacteria to the concentrations of antibiotics found in the feather meal samples, they also discovered the drug residues could
select for resistant bacteria. "A high enough concentration was found in one of the samples to select for bacteria that are resistant to drugs important to treat infections in humans,"
noted Nachman. "We strongly believe that the FDA should monitor what drugs are going into animal feed,"
urged Nachman. "Based on what we've learned, I'm concerned that the new FDA guidance documents, which call for voluntary action from industry, will be ineffectual. By looking into
feather meal, and uncovering a drug banned nearly 6 years ago, we have very little confidence that the food animal production industry can be left to regulate it-self."
US: Arsenic in our chicken?
A pair of new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed
caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic. “We were kind of floored,” said Keeve E. Nachman, a co-author of both studies and a
scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future. “It’s unbelievable what we found.” He said that the researchers had intended to test only for antibiotics. But assays for other
chemicals and pharmaceuticals didn’t cost extra, so researchers asked for those results as well.
“We haven’t found anything that is an immediate health concern,” Nachman added. “But it makes me question how comfortable we are feeding a number of these things to animals
that we’re eating. It bewilders me.” Likewise, I grew up on a farm, and thought I knew what to expect in my food. But
Benadryl? Arsenic? These studies don’t mean that you should dump the contents of your refrigerator, but they do raise serious questions about the food we eat and how we should shop.
It turns out that arsenic has routinely been fed to poultry (and sometimes hogs) because it reduces infections and makes flesh an appetizing shade of pink. There’s no evidence that
such low levels of arsenic harm either chickens or the people eating them, but still. Big Ag doesn’t advertise the chemicals it stuffs into animals, so the scientists conducting
these studies figured out a clever way to detect them. Bird feathers, like human fingernails, accumulate chemicals and drugs that an animal is exposed to. So scientists from Johns
Hopkins University and Arizona State University examined feather meal — a poultry byproduct made of feathers. One study, just published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Environmental Science &
Technology, found that feather meal routinely contained a banned class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. These antibiotics (such as Cipro), are illegal in poultry productionbecause
they can breed antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that harm humans. Already, antibiotic-resistant infections kill more Americans annually than AIDS, according to the Infectious
Diseases Society of America. The same study also found that one-third of feather-meal samples contained an
antihistamine that is the active ingredient of Benadryl. The great majority of feather meal contained acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. And feather-meal samples from China contained an antidepressant that is the active ingredient in Prozac.
Poultry-growing literature has recommended Benadryl to reduce anxiety among chickens, apparently because stressed chickens have tougher meat and grow more slowly. Tylenol
and Prozac presumably serve the same purpose. Researchers found that most feather-meal samples contained caffeine. It turns out that
chickens are sometimes fed coffee pulp and green tea powder to keep them awake so that they can spend more time eating. (Is that why they need the Benadryl, to calm them
down?) The other peer-reviewed study, reported in a journal called Science of the Total Environment, found arsenic in every sample of feather meal tested. Almost 9 in 10 broiler
chickens in the United States had been fed arsenic, according to a 2011 industry estimate. These findings will surprise some poultry farmers because even they often don’t know what
chemicals they feed their birds. Huge food companies require farmers to use a proprietary food mix, and the farmer typically doesn’t know exactly what is in it. I asked the United
States Poultry and Egg Association for comment, but it said that it had not seen the studies and had nothing more to say.
What does all this mean for consumers? The study looked only at feathers, not meat, so we don’t know exactly what chemicals reach the plate, or at what levels. The uncertainties are
enormous, but I asked Nachman about the food he buys for his own family. “I’ve been studying food-animal production for some time, and the more I study, the more I’m drawn
to organic,” he said. “We buy organic.” I’m the same. I used to be skeptical of organic, but the more reporting I do on our food
supply, the more I want my own family eating organic — just to be safe.
DAVID L. PEARLE, M.D. DAVID L. PEARLE, M.D. PERSONAL INFORMATION HOME ADDRESS: (202) 444-8833 / (877) 303-1461 Facsimile EDUCATION 1964 M.D., Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts TRAINING/ PROFESSIONAL POSITIONS 1968-1969 Internship in Medicine, New York Hospital Residency in Medicine, New York Hospital Commissioned Officer, Public Health Servic
Vo l u m e 2 - I s s u e 1 - A u g u s t 2 0 0 2 N E W S L E T T E R OF TH E EU ROP EAN B IOSAF ET YASSOCIATION C O N T E N T S In this issue of the Newsletter you will find an outlook into theGerman regulatory world and a description on howSwitzerland has prepared to respond to bioterrorism. You will also find an overview of the last annual conference ofWorld of biosafety: France adds o