Sanderson and Merck Caught Deceiving Consumers

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June 20, 2017 | 18,641 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Sanderson Farms refuses to stop using antibiotics and claims the antibiotic-free chicken trend is nothing but a marketing ploy devised to justify higher prices
  • Other poultry producers, including Perdue, have committed to eliminating or reducing the use of antibiotics
  • Merck, which produces a pesticide called Slice used to kill sea lice in farmed fish, was involved in a cover up of a study that found the chemical was harming crustaceans

By Dr. Mercola

In May 2016, I urged you to pressure poultry giant Sanderson Farms to come to its senses and join other major poultry producers in taking proactive steps to reduce its antibiotic use. Remarkably, the company not only decided not to reduce its usage but also took the step of going public with its decision to continue using antibiotics, saying the antibiotic-free chicken trend is nothing but a marketing ploy devised to justify higher prices.

According to Lampkin Butts, president and chief operating officer of Sanderson Farms, "There is not any credible science that leads us to believe we're causing antibiotic resistance in humans."1 Yet, when the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) conducted an analysis of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) testing for multidrug-resistant E. coli on Sanderson Farms' chicken, they found otherwise.

Sanderson Farms' Refusal to Cut Antibiotics in Chicken Is Dangerous

Eighty percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used by industrial agriculture for purposes of growth promotion and preventing diseases that would otherwise make their concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) unviable. With animals packed into tight quarters, fed unnatural diets and living in filth, disease flourishes. Low doses of antibiotics are added to feed as a matter of course, not only to stave off inevitable infectious diseases but also because they cause the animals to grow faster on less food.

"But there is a terrifying downside to this practice," Scientific American reported. "Antibiotics seem to be transforming innocent farm animals into disease factories."2 The antibiotics may kill most of the bacteria in the animal, but remaining resistant bacteria is allowed to survive and multiply. When the FDA tests raw supermarket chicken, they routinely find antibiotic-resistant bacteria to be present. According to NRDC's analysis of FDA data, this is also true of Sanderson Farms' chicken:3

"[W]e graph[ed] FDA's testing results for multidrug-resistant E. coli found on retail chicken and Sanderson Farms chicken from 2002 to 2014 … the graph shows that E. coli isolated from Sanderson Farms' chicken had levels of multidrug-resistance that were similar to E. coli from all retail chicken tested.

While FDA's limited sample size makes it impossible to estimate national resistance rates with statistical confidence, it does provide evidence that Sanderson Farms chicken is indeed part of the problem and is contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance (in addition to spreading E. coli, which can be harmful)."

Other Chicken Producers, Including Perdue, Slash Antibiotics Usage

While Sanderson Farms continues to dig in its heals and attempt to deceive the U.S. public that antibiotics belong in CAFO food production, other big names in the industry have made positive changes. Perdue announced in October 2016 that it had ended the routine use of antibiotics company-wide, only using antibiotics when chickens get sick (in about 5 percent of their birds). They're now marketing their poultry under a "no antibiotics ever" label.

Perdue has stopped using not only antibiotics used to treat humans, but also ionophores, a class of antibiotics used exclusively in animals and more commonly in ruminant animals such as cows. The use of the antibiotic in poultry farming is to control parasitic illnesses in CAFOs, where disease spreads quickly.

Perdue chairman Jim Perdue told NPR they're eliminating antibiotics due to marketing reasons and consumer demand, noting "Our consumers have already told us they want chicken raised without any antibiotics."4 The company is even using natural herbs and vitamins to help the chickens stay healthy. They put oregano in the chicken's water and thyme in their feed to supply antioxidants and boost immune function.5

What Does It Mean When a Label Claims 'Antibiotic Free?'

When sorting through "antibiotic free" labels available, it's important to be aware of the "fine print" in some cases. In Perdue's No Antibiotics Ever program, it means just that. However, if the label states only "responsible antibiotic use," "veterinarian-approved antibiotic use," "no antibiotic residue" or "100% natural," antibiotics may have been used in the hatchery while the chick is in the egg.

Even if a product is labeled organic, it could have had antibiotics used in the hatchery. The exception is if it is labeled organic and "raised without antibiotics." In this case, it means no antibiotics were used at any point. Other loopholes include stating "no human antibiotics," but this means other animal antibiotics may be used. Unfortunately, as Consumer Reports noted:6

"This still allows for the use of antibiotics that aren't medically important, which can lead to antibiotic resistance to other drugs. 'Resistance genes don't discriminate,' says Tara C. Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of public health at Kent State University. Genes that create resistance to medically important antibiotics can tag along with what we think of as less crucial drugs, leading to similar consequences, in the long term, to using those critical ones."

Claims to watch out for include the "no growth-promoting antibiotics" label and the no "critically important" antibiotics label or claims. In the former case, it means antibiotics may still be used for disease prevention and in the latter, most critically important antibiotics aren't used in poultry production anyway, so the "claim doesn't translate to meaningful change in antibiotic use," according to Consumer Reports.7

While Perdue has made some meaningful changes in antibiotics usage, they're still perpetuating the inhumane and unsustainable CAFO model, so the best place to get chicken and eggs is from a local producer, or raise them yourself. If you have to go commercial, definitely avoid companies continuing to use antibiotics, like Sanderson Farms, and support those committed to eliminating their use. I strongly encourage you to support the small family farms in your area.

Merck Covers Up Pesticide Devastating Sea Life

Corporate farms like Sanderson are not alone in their desire to deceive the public about a dangerous practice or product. In related news, pharmaceutical giant Merck, known as MSD Animal Health in the U.K., produces a pesticide called Slice, which contains emamectin benzoate and is used to kill sea lice — a major problem among farmed salmon raised in "CAFOs of the sea."

Slice persists in the salmon's tissues and the environment for weeks to months,8 and Scotland's Sunday Herald reported in early 2017 that at least 45 lochs were contaminated with emamectin benzoate.9

It was previously revealed that the chemical may be hazardous to lobsters, crabs and other crustaceans inadvertently exposed,10 but a second report supposedly took major issue with the findings. It turns out that Merck had hired the reviewers to write a critique of the study in order to protect the reputation of their toxic pesticide and, worse, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) reportedly allowed it to happen. The Sunday Herald continued:11

"Merck's behind-the-scenes influence has been exposed by more than 70 megabytes of internal documents released by the Crown Estate under freedom of information law. They also show that government and industry agreed not to issue a press release on the study.

The revelations have been described as 'extraordinary' by environmentalists, who are demanding a ban on the pesticide. Merck said that the study had 'limitations' and the Scottish Government defended the anonymity of reviewers. We … reported that Sepa had suppressed a report about emamectin and ditched a plan to ban it after pressure from the fish farming industry. But until now the role of Merck has remained hidden."

Farmed Fish Are Spreading Disease

The problems that occur on land do not disappear once intensive farming moves to the sea, which is why industrial fish farming, or aquaculture, is turning out to be just as damaging as land-based CAFOs. Raised in high numbers in crowded quarters, in unnatural environments and fed an unhealthy diet, "the consequence has been the emergence and spread of an increasing array of new diseases," according to a review published in the journal Veterinary Research.12

Among them is heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), which has been detected in farmed fish in Norway and British Columbia. HSMI has been responsible for devastating commercial fish farms in Norway, where it is considered the No. 3 cause of mortality, according to a 2015 annual report by seafood company Marine Harvest.13

There's also the highly lethal infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus, also known as salmon influenza. First detected in Norway in 1984, infection spread to other countries via egg imports. According to biologist Alexandra Morton, at least 11 species of fish in British Columbia's Fraser River have been found to be infected with European-strain ISA virus, yet the Canadian food inspection agency has aggressively refuted the findings.

Morton tested farmed salmon purchased in various stores and sushi restaurants around British Columbia, and samples tested positive for at least three different salmon viruses, including ISA, salmon alphaviruses and piscine reovirus, which gives salmon a heart attack and prevents them from swimming upriver. Worse still, Morton and colleagues have also found traces of ISA virus in wild salmon.14 For more details, check out the documentary "Salmon Confidential."

A February 2017 study published in PLOS One supports Morton's findings: It identified HSMI on a British Columbia salmon farm15 and noted that outbreaks often occur after the fish are exposed to stressful events, such as algal bloom or treatment for sea lice.16

Avoid Being Deceived: Find Outlets for Safer, Humanely Raised Food

The companies in favor of producing food on a mass scale have their profits, not your or the animals' interests, at heart. The use of antibiotics and chemical treatments to kill sea lice are often regarded as a necessary cost of doing business, regardless of what it means for the future spread of antibiotic-resistant disease or welfare of the environment. Further, while CAFOs and fish farms promote the spread of disease, traditional farming practices combat it.

At small, regenerative and diversified farms, where pigs, hens and cattle are raised together in a sustainable way, there are many reasons why disease is kept to a minimum, even without the use of antibiotics.

The animals have more space to move around, for starters, making them hardier than those raised in confinement. They are weaned at a later age, which builds their immune systems. Even exposure to the sun, a natural sanitizer, is helpful, while a pig allowed to roll in mud enjoys a natural anti-parasitic. Scientific American further reported:17

"In a 2007 study, Texas Tech University researchers reported that pigs that had been raised outside had enhanced activity of bacteria-fighting immune cells called neutrophils when compared with animals raised inside."

You can do your part and help protect your health by rethinking where you buy your food. Choosing food that comes from small regenerative farms — not CAFOs — is crucial. While avoiding CAFO meats, look for antibiotic-free alternatives raised by organic and regenerative farmers. As for seafood, choose wild caught and MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified labels. As with other foods, your best bet may be to buy your fish from a trusted local fish monger.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 New York Times August 1, 2016
  • 2, 17 Scientific American December 2016
  • 3 NRDC June 1, 2017
  • 4 NPR October 7, 2016
  • 5 Perdue, No Antibiotics Ever
  • 6, 7 Consumer Reports April 12, 2017
  • 8 Farmed and Dangerous: SLICE
  • 9, 11 The Sunday Herald June 3, 2017
  • 10 Environ. Sci. Technol., 2016, 50 (21), pp 11994–12003
  • 12 Vet Res. 2010 Nov-Dec; 41(6): 51.
  • 13 The Tyee May 23, 2016
  • 14 Virology Journal January 6, 2016
  • 15 PLOS One February 22, 2017
  • 16 The Tyee February 27, 2017