Essay: Chickens, Antibiotics, and Government Ohh My!

A problem that I was previously unaware of, and impacts the world is antibiotics in broiler chickens.  Broiler chickens are chickens that we consume. While researching animal welfare I was appalled at the way animals are kept and treated, but I was also equally perturbed by the impact the these conditions have on humans, and the lack of help from the government that is supposed to put our welfare above all else.

I decided to focus on broiler chickens, because in the U.S alone we slaughter nine billion chickens for sustenance. These chickens are being kept in cages, crowded together to the point where they are clawing over each other for space. These cages are rarely ever cleaned, and so the chickens are crowded together sitting in their feces and ammonia. Now, I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t like to sit crowded with others in our feces. Sometimes a dead chicken is left in the cage with the live chickens to rot, and other times the chickens get the head stuck in the wire, and yet other times the automatic food/water dispenser decapitates a chicken. Additional despicable circumstances include getting part of their beaks removed, developing sores, ulcers, and wounds, and having leg lameness or defects as a result of being bred to grow fast. As you can imagine, in these barns it’s cramped, smelly, and gross. The perfect grounds for disease to manifest.

The farmers are aware of this but instead of spending money to improve living conditions, they rather spend money on antibiotics to prevent and fight off disease. Because they use so much antibiotics all the time, the diseases have become resistant to antibiotics, and they get into the chickens. Since the FDA only tested around 2% of chickens for disease last year, we don’t know that these chickens are sick, and they end up in the grocery store where we buy them and eat them. And suddenly we are sick because we’ve eaten the diseases as well as the chickens. Usually we would use antibiotics to fight things like this off, but guess what? We can’t because the diseases have become immune, and then people die from salmonella, or other diseases. This is a huge problem, and unless the FDA does something serious, then in the next three years an estimated 67,000 Americans will die from eating bad meat.

I have a solution, one that I hope will save humans and chickens alike. How about we make farmers test their animals for diseases, and apply for antibiotics? We should make sure they only use antibiotics for when they’re really needed, and we should improve the living quarters of chickens so that they don’t get sick so easily. Maybe we should create a committee to monitor farms, disease, antibiotic use, and chicken living conditions. Maybe we should elect the members of that committee, and make sure that they are fighting for us instead of just themselves. We should keep corporations out of this committee, to make sure that the corporations don’t corrupt or influence any decisions the committee makes.

I know that it will be hard, and that any committee is bound to have some bias or corruption, but we can reduce the amount in this committee. This solution will need people to fill the roles, and farmers to cooperate. It will also need people to advocate and get behind it, for the solution to ever become a reality.

We were recently given a reminder that committees like these need to exist on Thursday January 9, 2014 when Foster Farms was closed down for a cockroach infestation and several salmonella outbreaks. Salmonella is now responsible for 1.3 million U.S illnesses a year, and one of the Foster Farm outbreaks affected about 400 people, and was a violent strain that was resistant to antibiotics, because the chickens had been given so much. The FDA did try to take some action, but most people are dissatisfied with the action, and say that it is too little to really help. An excerpt from this so called action is, “In a final guidance issued today {December 11, 2013}, the FDA lays out a road map for animal pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily revise the FDA-approved use conditions on the labels of these products to remove production indications.” (FDA website).  I would like to point out that this was the main part of their action, and that it is voluntary. The only things they’ve done about this are voluntary? It just seems like our government which is supposed to protect us, is not doing very much to help us out here. Which is disappointing that a government founded on helping people, and keeping people free, are letting cockroaches run around factories despite inspections. I think that it is time to take our government back, and take action to save chickens, and human lives.

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