On Monday, Reuters published its analysis of “feed tickets” from Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods in order to illustrate how U.S. poultry producers systematically feed antibiotics to their chickens. Mills that make feed for companies issue these feed tickets to chicken growers listing the types, amounts, and FDA-approved purposes for each medication included. About 10 percent of the 320 documents that the news agency reviewed listed antibiotics belonging to medically important drug classes. Here are some of the Reuters findings:

  • George’s Inc. issued feed tickets last year to a chicken grower in Virginia that show the antibiotics tylosin (classified as “critically important”) and virginiamycin (classified as “highly important”) were administered only for “increased rate of weight gain.”
  • Tyson Foods sent feed tickets to two Mississippi farms that show bacitracin and the non-antibiotic nicarbazin among the drugs in the mixtures. The tickets state that the drug combination is “for use in the prevention of coccidiosis in broiler flocks, growth promotion and feed efficiency.” The company said it uses bacitracin only to prevent disease, not to promote growth.
  • Koch Foods feed tickets dated from Nov. 30, 2011, through July 20, 2014, list low-dose amounts of five different types of antibiotics in feed given to flocks at one Alabama farm, including the “highly important” virginiamycin. This contradicted a statement on the company’s website through late August that stated, “No antibiotics of human significance are used to treat our birds.”
  • More than half of the Koch feed tickets that Reuters examined listed antibiotics at low-dose levels “for increased rate of weight gain.” The company said that it’s required to list these drugs as growth promoters because they can have that effect, but that it doesn’t use them for that reason.
  • Pilgrim’s Pride added low doses of the antibiotics bacitracin and monensin — neither of which is classified as medically important by FDA — individually or in combination to every ration fed to a flock grown early this year.
  • Perdue recently announced that it had stopped using the antibiotic gentamicin in hatcheries, but some feeds still contain low levels of one antibiotic.

The National Chicken Council (NCC) responded to the article by reiterating that the majority of antibiotics approved for use in raising chickens are not used in human medicine, and those that are will be phased out for growth promotion purposes by December 2016.