Perdue Says It’s Finally Stopped Injecting Chicken Eggs With Human Antibiotics

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Big Chicken has finally learned a thing from Chicken Little, and from the littlest chickens. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

Perdue Farms, the billion-dollar poultry producer, has taken an unprecedented move for a company its size and now says it's no longer vaccinating chicken embryos in hatcheries with the kinds of antibiotics that are also administered to people. An overwhelming amount of scientific evidence indicates that the practice leads directly to antibiotic resistance, of course, and the CDC calls it "unnecessary" and "inappropriate," so Perdue says it has finally gotten the message.

The corporation will keep using veterinary-specific antibiotics to treat certain illnesses, but CEO Jim Perdue says consumers and watchdogs should consider this the "last step," adding that it exceeds FDA and USDA guidelines and standards. Perdue tells NPR the development is an "exciting thing" because "it's the culmination of a lot, a lot of effort." Because producers use human antibiotics like gentamicin largely to keep infections out of holes made by syringes used to inject poultry drugs into incubating eggs, the change meant a serious change of practices, and Perdue says it had to get hens for its 15 hatcheries to lay stronger, healthier eggs from the get-go. At first they mostly died, the company said, but after 12 years of development, researchers finally figured it out. As it happens, the healthier chicken means something for grocery shoppers, too, beyond the superbug-thwarting news: The cost of chicken will increase, for now at least, but Perdue says "prices would come down as more consumers bought antibiotic-free and organic poultry," the Times reports.

[NYT, NPR]