Do you think you know the difference between a bird raised on an organic farm and a bird raised on a traditional farm? Perhaps you’ve heard they are happier, better cared for, or enjoy better quality food void of hormones or antibiotics. You may have heard there was no difference at all. And, anyway, how does where a bird was raised affect me?
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives provides data demonstrating that poultry farms that have transitioned from conventional to organic practices – including discontinuing the use of antibiotics – have seen significantly lower levels of drug-resistant enterococci bacteria. Enterococci is found in the intestines of nearly all animals, and are intrinsically resistant to many antibiotics – a potential public health concern for humans. On poultry farms, enterococci can be found in poultry litter, feed and water.
Bacteria resistant to antibiotics can make their way to humans through the meat itself or through the environment, such as waterways contaminated with runoff. If humans ingest the bacteria or are exposed to them in some other way and become sick, there aren’t many options for treating them.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, farmers who raise food-producing animals use about 29 million pounds of antibiotics each year. The most recent salmonella outbreak in ground turkey was caused by a strain resistant to many antibiotics.
The study, led by the University of Maryland, compared enterococci bacteria levels at 10 mid-Atlantic farms that had just adopted organic practices against 10 mid-Atlantic conventional farms. The researchers tested enterococci resistance to 17 different types of antibiotic drugs.
Although in this study organic poultry had less enteroccoci bacteria present, it doesn’t mean the poultry was entirely bacteria-free. No poultry is completely free of bacteria or other contaminants. If poultry and meat are part of your family’s diet – organic or not – take precautions when preparing these foods. Know their cooking temperatures, cook them thoroughly and avoid cross-contamination during the preparation process.