Antibiotics in feed for poultry-do we need them?

Antibiotics in feed for poultryThere is constant race for better meat yielding animals. As the grain costs increase on an annual basis, the drag co-efficient for the poultry industry has hit a new high. The need for cheap and not necessarily good quality raw materials is more than it ever was. As the nutritional basis for animal feed switches from cost effective to effective cost, there is need for the farmer to be more stringent in choosing the right feed formulation to meet rising demand for meat and eggs. While some choose to be eccentric and follow the all organic approach, more than 70 % of the farms choose to be otherwise. As the health of the bird becomes secondary especially in a short 28 day period, the drive for production is main reason for the advent of antibiotic use in animal feed in the 20th century with the intention to reduce mortality and improve weight gain. As antibiotics gained popularity, the heritage of newly discovered antibiotics passed quickly from human to animal use.

The approach towards poultry and other livestock used for food production has to be of a preventive medicine. The use of antibiotics for this purpose blurred the line between treatment and prevention. Let’s take some time to understand this briefly,  for human medicine, population medicine is individualistic, especially in case of microbial disease, whereas in case of poultry there is a close association between the birds in the house where it is always a sub population we intend to treat or prevent disease in. Using preventive medicine tools directs here to understand the trends and predict outcomes. We always try to go one better by improving bio security and management practices, so that we affix our outcomes of clean bird production.  Once we start using substances that kill micro-flora we are already invading the population by measures labelled as preventive, but actually treating a problem, so be it at a micro-scale. This so called preventive use of antibiotics in feed treats every birds differently, where in human medicine we consider parenteral as the route of choice for maximum efficacy, feeding birds orally forms one barrier, apart from not discussing how much one bird will consume and how often. Now we come to a question very recently asked by the pro –antibiotics lobby, how antibiotics used for the animal use and human use being different, have a chance to produce antibiotic resistance that is significant for human medicine. To put my point clearly below is a table published in one report that demarks different categories of antibiotics with respect to their in animal or in human use.

This report says as reported by FDA, but actually is an adaptation from the report and the table is not present in the original FDA version.

Even if we consider that the categories are different for human and animal use, how one ensures that antibiotics working on certain targets as cell wall or cell division are going to discriminate the categories. We are not even sure that how low dose of certain one category of antibiotics affects the cross development of antibiotic resistance.

So, where do we go from here, do we use antibiotics or not? Let’s now focus on what can be done.

We can list how we can collectively reduce antibiotics,

  1. Treat Invitro

This implies to enhancing the biosecurity measures in all inputs for the birds. Using safe, natural alternatives in these zones which include the water source, litter, House and feed. Using disinfectants of natural origin in these zones kill the microbes where they are most vulnerable that is outside the bird body.

  1. Focus on nutrition

Use bio-availability scales to improve the nutrition supply to the birds. Healthy birds survive on the accord on their own immunity and natural barriers. Remember the host also in the infection trilogy of pathogen, host and environment interaction.

  1. Clean processed birds for sale

The importance of slaughter house disinfection should not be lost. This is the last step that the producer can really control its quality of carcass. Using non-residual agents for cleansing of carcass.

  1. Gut is where all the action is

Improving gut flora results in better good micro flora dominance in the intestine. Additives that improve all supporting structures which enhance the micro climate for gut will improve gut associated lymphoid tissue and results in improved immunity and absorption. Gut health enhancement also reduces chances of pathogens passing into the blood and other vital organs. Reducing the endogenous losses from gut will also enhance amino acid turn-over in poultry.

Efforts should be made to cull such trends when they originate and the poultry industry should keep an open mind towards use of alternatives to antibiotics, as it would take some withdrawal time to wean off these dependencies.