Researcher finds alternatives to antibiotics for growing chickens

MADISON - University of Wisconsin-Madison animal scientist Mark Cook is finding ways producers can raise chickens economically with fewer antibiotics. "I believe that our new tools and strategies will increase both animal and human health," he says.

The research could slow the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, preserve the useful life of antibiotics, and allow scientists to breed chickens with strong immune systems, according to Cook, a researcher at the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

There have been growing concerns about the development of new bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics. The increasing number of antibiotic-resistant strains means doctors are losing their ability to cure human infections.

One controversial aspect of the antibiotic-resistance issue has been whether the routine feeding of antibiotics to agricultural animals contributes to the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains. European countries have banned the routine use of antibiotics in chicken feed. However, Cook believes that banning antibiotics would dramatically increase food costs, leave animal producers with few strategies to control diseases and pathogens, and greatly reduce investment in new pharmaceuticals to fight infection in both animals and people.

"To keep birds healthy, we've come to rely on antibiotics, which promote growth by warding off infections and their growth-reducing effects," Cook says. "We need other ways that poultry producers can keep the birds growing rapidly without feeding antibiotics routinely in the diet."

In the 1950s, Cook says, researchers found that animals fed antibiotics grew faster than those not fed the compounds. Using antibiotics in feed gave producers an economic advantage in raising animals to market weight quickly and at low cost. The routine addition of growth promoting antibiotics to animal feed soon became commonplace in agriculture.

When the pra

Contact: Mark Cook
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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