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Perdue to Stop Using Antibiotics on Hatching Eggs

Update Date: Sep 04, 2014 10:17 AM EDT

Perdue Farms, a major chicken processing company, has announced that it will stop injecting antibiotics into eggs that are about to hatch, which is common practice in this industry.

In one of the Perdue hatcheries located in Salisbury, MD, workers deal with over one million eggs per week. These eggs come from breeding farms from West Virginia. Since these eggs are fertilized, they undergo a hatching process and are placed in heated incubators for 18 days.

Typically, when the eggs are ready to hatch, they have to be injected with a vaccine that fights against a common chicken virus called Marek's disease, which is highly contagious. Since drilling a tiny hole into the eggs can let bacteria enter the embryos, hatcheries across the United States also inject an antibiotic called gentamicin. This antibiotic is also permitted for organic chicken.

Due to the concerns surrounding the progression of antibiotic-resistant strains, antibiotic use in animals has been highly criticized. Perdue has responded to these concerns and complaints by removing the antibiotic from all of its 15 hatcheries.

"When we started hearing from consumers that they were becoming concerned about the amount of antibiotics used to raise chickens they were buying, we were listening," company chairman, CEO Jim Perdue said at the DC briefing reported in the Wired. "Coupled with information coming from the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and other sources, we began to look critically at our practices. It wasn't easy...but we found along the way that we could raise healthy chickens with fewer antibiotics."

He added, according to NPR, "You can't do this overnight. You really got to work hard at it. And that's why it's an exciting thing, because it's the culmination of a lot, a lot of effort."

According to Perdue, it took the company 12 years to reach the point where ending the use of the antibiotic did not jeopardize the health of the chickens. He stated that when they first started testing, many chicks died from infections. This move to end antibiotic use has received praise.

"From the public health point of view, to not use gentamicin in the eggs is a big step," commented Gail Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Even though this move is huge, the government has been pushing meat companies to lower their use of antibiotics during all stages of development. Typically after eggs hatch, chicks go to farms where there are antibiotics in their feed. Perdue only uses ionophores, which are a class of antibiotics that humans do not use. Only about five percent of the chicks that are considered at-risk will get antibiotics in their water.

Perdue is not the only company to remove antibiotics from its hatcheries, but it is the first company to remove them from all of its locations. The company's statement can be found here.

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