A study of chicken byproducts co-authored by an Arizona State University researcher found trace amounts of antibiotics banned from poultry production in 2005.
Rolf Halden, co-director of ASU’s Center for Health Information and Research and associate director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, said the finding suggests that the drugs are still in use, though he said that isn’t certain.
The levels of antibiotics detected aren’t high enough to cause health concerns for consumers, he said, but they should prompt questions.
“This doesn’t mean people can’t eat what is in their refrigerators anymore,” Halden said. “But this should challenge all of us to think about the food we put on our table and how it is produced.”
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore also participated in the study of feather meal, a mixture of poultry feathers and other carcass material used in fertilizer and animal feed.
Ten of the samples tested for drug residue were from the U.S. and two were from China.
In six of the 10 domestic samples and in both of the samples from China, researchers found small amounts of fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics considered highly effective in fighting bacteria that have developed resistance to other antibiotics.
The Food and Drug Administration banned fluoroquinolones from poultry production to maintain their potency against antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
All of the samples tested contained residue of legal antibiotics, the study found.
Halden said concentrated animal-feeding operations, which place animals in small spaces, put stress on poultry and make them prone to disease and infection.
“Those in the food-production industry believe antibiotics are a way to prevent and fight disease and infection but also to yield an increase in the speed of animal growth,” he said.
In addition to antibiotics, the researchers found traces of caffeine and the active ingredients of Tylenol, Benadryl and Prozac.
“It’s known, at least anecdotally, that different medicines are being given to animals to keep them quiet, to keep them awake,” Halden said.
He said he hopes the findings lead the FDA to investigate.
William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said he is aware of the report but that it is too early to tell what the findings mean.
“We do not, at this point, have any real significant information to indicate that … a use (of fluoroquinolones) is occurring to any extent,” Flynn said during a conference call Wednesday in which the FDA urged drug companies to help limit antibiotic use on farms. “But certainly we’re going to look at that data very carefully to see what we can learn from it.”
The U.S. Poultry and Egg Association’s website carried a statement from John Glisson, director of research programs, saying that fluoroquinolones haven’t been used in the poultry industry since the FDA ban. In fact, he said, the types of fluoroquinolones reported have never been used in U.S. commercial poultry production.
“The fact that they are evident in this study calls into question the source of the feather meal that was tested, potential cross-contamination with other products, and ultimately the scientific objectivity of the research since it implies continued use of fluoroquinolones that were never used by the poultry industry in the first place,” the statement said.