EMBARGOED UNTIL: Monday 5/20, 1 PM MDT
(Poster Session 131, Paper 1603)
New York, NY, United States
Phone: 917 593 5953
Comparing Conventional, Organic, Kosher, and Raised without Antibiotics
Use of drugs in poultry production has proven to generate foodborne bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Human exposure to chicken carrying resistant bacteria can lead to infections that are difficult to treat. Based on this serious health risk, we studied the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli on four major categories of chicken—conventional, organic, kosher, and raised without antibiotics. Our research shows that, counter to perceptions of healthiness and safety, kosher chicken has over twice the frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli as conventional chicken, and organic has an equal frequency. As expected, chicken raised without antibiotics, which is strictly USDA regulated, has the lowest frequency.
From April to June 2012, primary author Jack Millman purchased chicken samples from retail food outlets in the New York City metropolitan area. A wide variety of brands were procured in the four designated categories, with 213 samples total and over 50 per variety. These specimens were shipped to T-Gen Laboratory in Flagstaff for E. coli screening, and then resistance testing against 12 common antibiotics. Concurrently, a Perception Study was fielded among 650 consumers to gauge attitudes towards each type of chicken. Chi-square analysis was used to determine differences in antibiotic resistance among categories and three-way ANOVA was used to isolate brand and multi-category effects.
The project was funded by Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research at Northern Arizona University and will be presented by Jack Millman at the General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Denver on May 20, 2013.
Antibiotic use is widespread in poultry production, both for therapeutic and growth promotion purposes. It is no surprise that chicken raised without antibiotics exhibits a low frequency of resistant bacteria; the USDA prohibits drug use for this label. Organic regulations do limit drug use, but allow injections in chicks in ovo (in the egg) and up to the 2nd day of life. The frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in organic chicken is, surprisingly, as high as that in conventional chicken, which has no drug restrictions. Most interesting is the kosher category, which has no drug restrictions and exhibits double the level of antibiotic-resistant E. coli as conventional chicken.
Conclusions from the Perceptions Study contrast with these findings. Data from both the New York and national surveys show that the main reasons consumers buy organic and kosher chicken is because they think it is healthier, safer, and cleaner. Many pay a premium price for these perceived benefits. But the new laboratory research suggests that, as it relates to antibiotic-resistant E. coli, these categories of chicken do not live up to their reputations. Organic chicken does not reduce the risk of consumer exposure to antibiotic resistant E. coli, and kosher chicken actually increases the risk. Only chicken with the specific label “raised without antibiotics” confers any consumer benefit by reducing the risk of exposure to this potential pathogen. Reducing resistant bacteria is more than a matter of label restriction. Even chicken raised without antibiotics carry some resistant E. coli. Cross-contamination from shared facilities and converted farms, slaughterhouses, and factories may be factors. Evaluating these issues and identifying new practices, may help reduce future consumer exposure from all types of chicken.