WASHINGTON — An extensive report by Reuters claims that antibiotic use in poultry production is posing a threat to consumer health because antibiotic use in poultry production is more widespread — and in lower doses — than originally believed.

Feed tickets issued to poultry growers by feed mills served as the basis of the report titled "Farmeceuticals". Reuters said its reporters reviewed 320 documents generated by Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc.; Pilgrim's Pride, Greeley, Colo.; Perdue Farms, Salisbury, Md., George's, Springdale and Park Ridge, Illinois-based Koch Foods.

In its response to Reuters article, Perdue said in a statement to Meat&Poultry: “Ninety-five percent of our chickens never receive antibiotics that are used in human medicine. We believe that demonstrates a responsible use of antibiotics, and responsible animal husbandry programs, in which consumers can have confidence.

“We found it unfortunate that the article failed to clearly distinguish between those antibiotics that have no use in human medicine— and therefore are not associated with concerns over antibiotic resistant bacteria in human health — and antibiotics used in both human and animal medicine. The article did not make clear that our company never uses human antibiotics in our feed, nor did it reflect our belief that antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion, to increase production or as a substitute for responsible animal husbandry.”

When asked about the source of the information mentioned in the Reuters story, a Tyson spokesman deferred to the NCC.

The article casts a critical eye on the poultry industry's use of antibiotics to treat sick birds and to promote growth, suggesting that the practice (which is legal) raises the risk of promoting superbugs.

"Veterinary use of antibiotics is legal and has been rising for decades. But US regulators don’t monitor how the drugs are administered on the farm — in what doses, for what purposes, or for how long. Made public here for the first time, the feed documents thus provide unique insight into how some major players use antibiotics," the article states.

The National Chicken Council used publication of the article as an opportunity to reinforce the industry's position on antibiotics use. NCC iterated that the majority of antibiotics approved for chicken production are not used in human medicine, and those that are will be phased out by December 2016.

"We understand the concern about the use of antibiotics in farm animals and recognize our responsibility to ensure they are properly used for the right reasons to protect the health of animals, humans and the food supply," said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

"All antibiotics used to prevent and treat disease in chickens are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA]," Peterson added. "The majority of these antibiotics are never used in human medicine and therefore represent no threat of creating resistance in humans."

Additionally, Perdue Foods recently announced plans to limit use of antibiotics in its poultry in response to growing concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“By no longer using any antibiotics in our hatcheries or any human antibiotics in feed, we’ve reached the point where 95 percent of our chickens never receive any human antibiotics, and the remainder receive them only for a few days when prescribed by a veterinarian,” said Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president of food safety, quality and live operations, at the time of Perdue's announcement.

Reuters also reported that Pilgrim's Pride, a unit of Sao Paulo-based JBS SA, threatened legal action against the news agency. Pilgrim's wanted access to the company's feed tickets that the reporters reviewed. Reuters declined Pilgrim's request.

The Reuters article can be found at http://www.reuters.com/.