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Human health at risk from 'sick' chicken industry

Fri, 13 Aug 2004

Human health at risk from 'sick' chicken industry

Warnings that antibiotics routinely fed to intensively farmed animals can breed super bugs resistant to human medicine, have once again hit the news. On 60 Minutes this week, John Aitken, a Christchurch micro-biologist, warned that the continued practice of indiscriminate feeding of antibiotics to animals could lead to major public health problems.

What the program did not make clear is that one of the biggest culprits of this practice is the broiler chicken industry. In New Zealand over 80 million chickens are raised in factory farms. They are fed antibiotics to force faster growth and prevent widespread disease break out, caused by the overcrowded, unsanitary and stressful conditions the animals are kept under.

"Scientists point out that the use of antibiotics to prevent disease-as opposed to curing it-constitutes misuse and should be banned altogether. A real solution, however, will not be found until the unnatural and inhumane manner in which New Zealand¹s factory farmed chickens are kept is brought to an end," says Hans Kriek, Campaign Director for SAFE, a national animal advocacy group.

New Zealand¹s broiler chickens are reared inside large, fully automated, windowless sheds. Up to 20 000 chickens are housed in each shed, packed in tightly at 20 birds per square metre. Selective breeding for fast growth, combined with a daily dose of growth-promoting antibiotics sees broiler chickens reach their slaughter weight in just 38 days. This abnormal growth places enormous stress on the chicken¹s bones, heart and lungs and can lead to bone deformities, leg weakness and disease. Consequently, around three million New Zealand broiler chickens die each year before they reach six weeks of age.

"The fact that broiler chickens are fed antibiotics on a daily basis belies claims by the poultry industry that their chickens are healthy. No other farming industry feeds its healthy animals expensive drugs unless serious disease forces them to do so," says Kriek.

"It is clearly not possible to raise animals in these highly intensive systems without compromising the animal's welfare, and now it seems human welfare as well. With antibiotic resistance in humans becoming an increasing problem, action is required. Europe has already banned a number of antibiotics for routine use in farm animals and will have a total ban in place by 2006. In New Zealand we have done nothing. The reckless use of these drugs not only continues, but is on the increase. The poultry industry alone increased its use of antibiotics by a staggering 34 percent over the last three years."

"The time has come for New Zealand consumers to demand a change towards a more humane system of chicken farming that does not need to rely on the use of powerful drugs to keep its animals alive. Not to do so will have serious consequences for both animals and humans alike."

ENDS

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