In recent years, people are increasingly looking for antibiotic-free chicken due to the growing concern about the use of antibiotics in poultry production.
Society is more aware than ever of the potential risks associated with antibiotic overuse, such as the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other health problems.
In response to this demand, many companies have made commitments to reduce or eliminate their use of antibiotics in poultry production. However, it can be difficult for production processes to truly become antibiotic-free due to the challenges posed by conventional farming methods of raising chickens.
Fortunately, the challenge of producing antibiotic-free chicken can be solved with cultivated chicken, the same as with other antibiotic-free meats.
In this blog post, we will explore the implications of antibiotic use and overuse in poultry production, how companies are responding to consumer demand for antibiotic-free meat, and how cultivated chicken could be the solution.
How are Antibiotics Used in Poultry Production?
Americans eat more chicken than any other meat. But more conscious consumers are starting to ask questions about whether they are eating organic chicken or if the best chicken brands are producing antibiotic-free chicken.
Antibiotics are used to prevent disease, promote growth, and treat infection in chickens. While most chicken meat is labeled as “antibiotic-free”, this does not necessarily mean that no antibiotics were used during production.
If an antibiotic was used on the farm, federal rules require that the antibiotics must have cleared the chicken’s system before it can be sold as antibiotic-free meat. This means that chicken can be labeled as antibiotic-free meat even if there are trace amounts of antibiotics present.
In addition to preventing disease and promoting growth, antibiotics are also used to reduce mortality rates and improve feed efficiency in poultry production. The goal is for antibiotics to help chickens stay healthy and produce more eggs with less feed.
Excessive use of antibiotics, however, can lead to resistance development in bacteria, allowing the bacteria to defeat the drugs that are designed to kill them. This can cause serious health problems for both humans and animals alike.
Is all Chicken Antibiotic-Free?
As we have discussed, the answer to the question "is all chicken antibiotic free?" is not simple. More than a third of consumers frequently buy meat, poultry, and other foods with an “antibiotics-free meat" claim.
But in the United States, the term "antibiotic free" can be used for chicken that has been given antibiotics for growth promotion or chicken that has been given antibiotics to treat disease.
Overuse of antibiotics has been linked to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria among humans, making it difficult to treat certain illnesses with traditional and life-saving treatments.
When antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, they can kill the bacteria that are causing the infection, but also some bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics. This means that the antibiotics will no longer be effective in killing the bacteria.
In addition, the use of antibiotics in poultry production can have negative environmental impacts. The presence of antibiotic residues in soil and water can disrupt natural ecosystems and harm wildlife populations.
At Believer, we are able to easily make cultivated chicken without any antibiotics because of the controlled, laboratory environment we use.
What Does the Claim “No Antibiotic Chicken” Mean?
For consumers looking to eat only antibiotic-free chicken, finding out what is or isn’t truly antibiotic-free meat can be a challenge. It is important for people to understand the difference between antibiotic use policies and claims, so they can make the decision that is right for them.
There are two main policies that ensure chicken being served is truly antibiotic-free: organic chicken and no antibiotics ever. While there is a distinction between organic chicken and no antibiotics ever chicken, both assure the consumer that the animal never came into contact with an antibiotic.
Organic chicken is strictly regulated and must adhere to certain standards. This means that it must be raised without the use of antibiotics, both in production and for disease control. As a result, organic chicken cannot contain any antibiotics at all.
No antibiotics ever (NAE) also means the chickens never came into contact with antibiotics, not even to receive treatment when they are sick. The chickens are raised in a way to prevent them from getting sick in the first place. If a chicken is treated for an illness, it cannot be included in the NAE label.
Some restaurants serve meat that have not been given “medically-important antibiotics,” which are antibiotics that are also given to humans. But the animals still could have been given other antibiotics.
It is true that many conventional farmers do not give their chickens growth promoting antibiotics, but that is still just one, smaller class of antibiotics. With cultivated meat, the need for antibiotics is completely eliminated, because no animals are being farmed or slaughtered.
What are the Challenges of Growing Truly Antibiotic-Free Chicken?
As consumers become more conscious about the food they eat, the demand for truly antibiotic-free chicken continues to grow. Achieving completely antibiotic-free meat production, though, comes with its fair share of challenges.
1. The Cost of Producing Antibiotic-Free Meat
Firstly, economic factors pose a challenge in the switch to antibiotic-free production. Antibiotics can help farmers save on feed and labor costs, leading to increased profits.
On the other hand, raising antibiotic-free chicken can require more costly feed and additional labor to ensure the birds remain healthy. This added expense could make it difficult for smaller farms to make the transition. If they can make the transition, it is likely that those costs will be passed down to the consumer.
2. Controlling Disease in Antibiotic-Free Chicken
Secondly, disease control is essential to raising healthy chickens without antibiotics. Unfortunately, this can be challenging, especially with large-scale poultry operations.
The close quarters and high density of birds make them more susceptible to illness, which can lead to significant losses if left unchecked. Although preventative measures such as vaccines and improved hygiene practices can help, it's not always enough to prevent outbreaks.
3. What is Necessary to Produce Antibiotic-Free Chicken?
Lastly, consumer misconceptions also play a role in the challenges faced in growing truly antibiotic-free chicken. There's a common belief that antibiotics are necessary for keeping chickens healthy and preventing illness.
While this may be true to an extent, the overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, which can have serious implications for human health. The challenges of antibiotic use, though, can be completely mitigated with cultivated meat.
What is the Poultry Industry's Response to Antibiotic Overuse?
In response to the growing concern about overuse, the poultry industry has taken a number of steps to reduce the use of antibiotics in raising chickens.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued guidance for "responsible stewardship practices that include actions to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics while maintaining animal health." The FDA's guidance is voluntary, but the poultry industry has largely complied with it.
It is true that the best chicken brands are investing in animal welfare practices that can help to reduce the need for antibiotics. These practices include providing chickens with more space to move around, better ventilation, and access to clean water, food, vaccines and probiotics.
The poultry industry has seen some success in reducing antibiotic use in broiler chickens by 50% since 2015. This is an important step towards addressing antimicrobial resistance, but has yet to increase confidence in the industry's ability to grow truly antibiotic-free chicken.
Is Lab-Grown Chicken Truly Antibiotic-Free?
Cultivated meat, also known as cultured or lab-grown meat, is real meat that is grown in a lab. This process typically begins by replicating cells in a petri dish. At Believer, we use fibroblast cells, because they are more stable and replicate quickly without genetic modification.
These cells replicate first in small samples and eventually in larger volumes within bioreactors where they grow into a dense biomass. We then separate it from the nutrient-rich medium in which it grew and fortify it with plant protein and combine it with other ingredients
In fact, our cultivated chicken is completely antibiotic free meat. We believe that lab-grown chicken is the best way to solve the antibiotic problem in the poultry industry today.
Our cultivated chicken does not require antibiotics because we grow it in a controlled, laboratory environment as opposed to conventional farms. This means that it is less likely to be contaminated with bacteria that can lead to food-borne illness.
What Are Other Cultivated Meat Advantages?
In addition to being antibiotic-free, there are many cultivated meat advantages compared to traditional farming methods. The entire lab-grown meat process can be done in a single facility with a smaller environmental footprint than what is required for conventionally-farmed meat.
Cultivated meat is also a more humane way to produce meat. Many animals raised by conventional farming methods can be confined to small, crowded spaces and denied the ability to engage in natural behaviors, which can lead to more diseases and the need for antibiotics.
Cultivated meat eliminates the need to raise animals in these conditions, which is a major improvement in animal welfare.
Look Out, Organic Chicken, Cultivated Meat is (Nearly) Here
We broke ground on our first U.S. commercial-scale production facility in 2022 to produce meat that will offer consumers a way to enjoy the chicken that they crave without the adverse impacts on the environment, health, and food security compared to conventional farming methods.
We believe cultivated meat will revolutionize the industry by providing antibiotic-free meats so there is a real alternative to conventional farming methods that are often overusing antibiotics and leading to antibiotic resistance.
We are working hard to produce antibiotic-free chicken that is healthier for both people and the planet. By choosing brands like Believer, you can soon help support this transition towards antibiotic-free meats and contribute to a more sustainable future for all.
Stay up to date on the latest developments in the cultivated meat industry by visiting The Source, where we publish weekly articles and news updates.