Recently consumers are exerting more pressure on the food industry. Maybe more pressure than regulatory agencies. Restaurant chains and large food companies are moving away from protein with antibiotics as quickly as their supply chain can supply. Last week, Subway pledged to serve antibiotic free poultry and within nine years to serve only antibiotic free protein - beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. It wasn't government regulation it was consumer demand that made these changes.
Surveys find that 60 to 70+% of consumers interviewed stated they were concerned about antibiotics in meat. Subway joins Chipotle, McDonalds, Panera, and Chick-fil-A, in committing to antibiotic free poultry. New restaurant chains will be pressured into joining these antibiotic free companies which includes In and Out Burger, who has committed to serving antibiotic free beef.
Poultry processors are moving ahead converting from the use of antibiotics to antibiotic free poultry as quickly as they can. Tyson Foods has committed to converting all flocks to be produced without antibiotics by September 2017. Pilgrim's Pride, the number two producer, and Foster Farms have committed to antibiotic free over a longer period of time. And 95% of the chicken produced by Purdue has been antibiotic free chicken since 2002. Poultry is the number 1 protein with 88.9 pounds consumed per capita (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Census Bureau.) When all poultry is antibiotic free, will it pressure pork and beef producers to move to antibiotic free? It already has. Tyson is working to eliminate antibiotics in its pork production and currently they market antibiotic free beef. Cargill is also racing to eliminate antibiotics in its pork production.
While the use of certain antibiotics is approved for use with raising certain livestock, and thus safe, consumers perceive this as a human health issue. The second week in April, 54 Asset and Pension management companies with a total of $1 Trillion under management, joined together sending letters to the major U.S. restaurant chains and food production companies, demanding the elimination of antibiotics in proteins. Those organizations advised in their letter that the use of antibiotics in their products place companies at a financial risk.
The assertion is based on the use of antibiotics having been
found to enable the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, as seen in the nasal swabs of agricultural workers employed on farms that use antibiotics. This is a distinctly different finding from workers on farms that do not use antibiotics. While antibiotic use in agriculture is not the only causal factor in the development of antibiotic resistance, recent research finds that it is one of the sources contributing to the human health concerns with the antibiotic of last resort, Vancomycin, now losing effectiveness against some bacteria.
There have been recommendations to fund research that may refute or marginalize the claims of antibiotic resistance through agricultural channels. But the main issue with antibiotic use in seafood production is that there are very few antibiotics that FDA has approved for use with aquaculture. So any use of unapproved antibiotics is something that cannot be condoned, even if science shows that the risk of antibiotic resistance is minimal.
The seafood community should consider how it will respond to consumer driven antibiotic concerns. Decomposition and unsanitary conditions are the leading causes for FDA rejections. The detection of unapproved antibiotics in seafood is the second cause for detention and the frequency has been increasing.
SIRF has decided to act responsibly and immediately beginning work on the best solution to the problem of using unapproved antibiotics in aquaculture- eliminate the need for antibiotics. Seafood Industry Research Fund (SIRF) has sponsored the University of Wisconsin Madison and Virginia Tech to conduct an exciting, relevant research project titled: ENHANCING SEAFOOD QUALITY AND SAFETY BY REDUCING RELIANCE ON ANTIBIOTICS: APPLYING A NOVEL ANTIBODY IN TILAPIA.
This research is based on new technology currently in trials in the poultry industry. Thus far the tests have successfully prevented diseases in chickens without the use of antibiotics. In addition, the mortality of chickens is less, the growth rates and feed conversion are similar to flocks exposed to antibiotics. Costs are equal to or lower than the cost of a normal antibiotic regimen. Initial trials with other animals including beef and pork show success at early stages. If successful, the solution will be better than the use of antibiotics and at the same or lower cost making this truly a market driven solution. This project is species specific and not considered a resolution to antibiotics in all species of seafood.
SIRF thanks the generous donors who have made this research possible and invites others to contribute to the continuing efforts to resolve antibiotic issues in seafood.