This article is reprinted from Health Care Without Harm’s Purchaser’s Guide to Sourcing Sustainable Poultry, with permission from the author, Marie Kulick, Senior Policy Analyst, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (published August, 2007).

Antibiotics are routinely and legally added to poultry feeds in large-scale production.  An estimated 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are in fact fed to poultry, swine, and beef cattle for nontherapeutic reasons—growth promotion, feed efficiency, and to compensate for the heightened risk of infection in raising animals under confined, often unhygienic conditions.2 Routine use of antibiotics in animals contributes significantly to the human epidemic of infections from bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment.3 Antibiotic-resistant pathogens from these farms routinely contaminate retail meats and can infect consumers handling or undercooking it.4 A substantial percentage of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella comes from use of antibiotics in food animals.5,6 Farm workers and their families can become directly colonized with resistant bacteria.7 And, contaminated manure spreads resistance throughout the environment that bacteria inhabit—everywhere.

Arsenic compounds:
Large-scale producers routinely feed arsenic (in the form of the organic arsenic compound, roxarsone) to at least 70 percent of U.S.-raised broiler chickens, as well.8 The FDA-approved uses are for growth promotion, feed efficiency and meat pigmentation.  Some arsenic ends up in chicken meat, but much of it passes through the birds into chicken litter, typically ending up in soil and water.9 Organic arsenic is converted into cancer-causing inorganic arsenic by bacteria in soil in as little as 10 days.10 [Arsenic is also routinely fed to turkey and swine.  Next section includes concern of arsenic in waste]

Poultry Waste:
Large-scale poultry production equals large-scale waste issues.  More than 8.7 billion U.S. broiler chickens raised each year will generate an estimated 26 to 55 billion pounds of litter or waste,11,12,13 also creating a huge disposal problem concentrated in relatively few geographic areas—for example, the Delmarva peninsula, the Appalachian region, the Southeast and the Mississippi Delta.14 Turkey production is similarly concentrated.15 Approximately 90 percent of poultry waste is currently applied to fields and cropland as “fertilizer.”16 Also, poultry litter is fed to beef cattle17,18 and sold as fertilizer in home garden stores.

Threats to workers:
Poultry growers and workers suffer high rates of eye infections, respiratory ailments, and other health problems, in part from the toxic brew of volatile gases and particles—including degrading manure, antibiotics, bacteria and dust—in poultry barns.19 One in five poultry workers is injured on the job.20 Repetitive stress injuries, lacerations and amputations are common.21 Also, the U.S. Department of Labor found substantial violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act when conducting surveys of poultry processing plants in 1997 and again in 2000.22

Poultry growers and workers are poorly compensated.  Nationwide, 71.6 percent of poultry farmers earn below poverty level income for their poultry operations;23 the average poultry worker with two children living on the Delmarva peninsula, one of the larger poultry producing regions in the US, qualifies for food stamps, low income home energy assistance, Head Start and school lunches.24 In contrast, poultry integrators (Tyson Foods, Gold Kist, Pilgrim’s Pride, etc.) earn a 10-25 percent rate of return on equity.25 This economic disparity is created by a complex set of factors that ultimately force poultry growers to assume much of the risk, but reap none of the rewards.26

Animal husbandry:
Broilers and turkeys are provided an average of 0.8-1.0 sq. ft. to 3 sq. ft., respectively, in an indoor, industrial-scale poultry operation.27 Four percent of broilers28 and between 10-12 percent of turkeys29 die prematurely from the crowding and unsanitary conditions.  Four percent of 8.7 billion birds is 348 million dead chickens annually.  Turkeys commonly have their beaks trimmed and are easily injured if moved improperly.30 Additionally, as a result of intensive genetic manipulation to produce faster growing, uniform birds with large breasts, birds suffer from skeletal, reproductive, heart and circulatory problems.31,32      Click Here for the List of References

Click Here for a List of Local Sustainable Meat and Poultry Producers or contact Future Harvest—Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture at 410-549-7878 to receive the newly updated 2010 Amazing Grazing Directory in print format.  Also, you can find these foods at many local farmers’ markets, health food stores and some grocery stores.
For more information on antibiotic use in agriculture & its link to antibiotic resistance in humans, visit: Protect Antibiotics

Print out this factsheet on arsenic use in Maryland poultry: Arsenic Factsheet to educate employees at your hospital.

Learn how your hospital can start to purchase healthier sustainable poultry:  410-706-1924 or