With all the drug-resistant salmonella outbreaks of late, catching a food-borne illness is no longer a pesky health annoyance, but an increasingly menacing prospect. That’s why it’s nice to hear some calming news coming from a new study about the poultry industry. Researchers at University of Maryland have just published findings that show chicken farms going organic make for fewer drug-resistant bacteria.
The overuse of antibiotics on livestock has led to the evolution of super bacteria that no longer respond to drug treatments. Organic farms don’t use antibiotics, and the switch from conventional to organic cuts the presence of drug-resistant bacteria with dramatic impact.
Researchers compared enterococci bacteria levels — a classic culprit of drug-resistant infection in animals and people — at 10 conventional large-scale poultry farms with 10 newly organic large-scale farms. The organic farms fared much better for bacteria, several as soon as one generation of chicken. The difference was nothing to bat an eyelash at either. On average, organic farms had three to four times fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventional farms.
“We initially hypothesized that we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices,” explained Dr. Amy R. Sapkota, an Assistant Professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in a press release. “But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant…It is very encouraging.”
The study is the first of its kind to demonstrate a link between switching to organic practices and reduction in these hard-to-treat bugs. Researchers expect the drop in drug-resistant bacteria to become even more dramatic as more time passes, more farms go organic and reservoirs of drug-resistant bacteria dry up, according to a press release.
For more information you can read the full press release titled “Poultry farms that go organic have significantly fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” go to the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (online August 10, 2011), or contact :