A USDA study found that certain chickens have immune systems that are better equipped to fight off diseases. By identifying and breeding these particular ‘super chickens,’ poultry manufacturers might not need to use antibiotics in their products anymore.
The study, which was published in the journal Poultry Science, found that chickens who have higher levels of two types of proteins in their blood – cytokines and chemokines – have stronger immune systems compared to those who don’t. These specific proteins are secreted by cells to alert macrophages (white blood cells) in the body about pathogens near by, resulting in better immune responses and decreased chances of bacterial infection.
With bacteria like campylobacter, which is the second leading cause of foodborne illness in the US, causing health problems in consumers and costing meat manufacturers almost $2 billion a year, antibiotic use is widespread in the industry. However, because antibiotic use is so frequent in meat production, certain pathogens are starting to become resistant to them. A flock of genetically stronger chickens that do not require antibiotics may be the answer poultry manufacturers are looking for.
These new findings can also help poultry manufacturers clean-up their product labels by eliminating the use of antibiotics in their chickens. According to researchers, super chickens are also likely to carry fewer pathogens on their bodies, making them even safer for consumption.
“The poultry industry is moving towards reduced therapeutics and, as such, our breeding strategy would be a viable method to incorporate into traditional poultry breeding programs,” the study concluded.
As more consumers turn away from products that are not naturally sourced and manufactured, antibiotic-free meat products are on the rise. The fear of antibiotic resistance in humans due to overconsumption has led consumers to look for meat products that are free from such medicines. According to the CDC, antibiotic resistance due to over exposure causes at least 23,000 deaths per year in the US.
By investing in super chickens, meat manufactures can help to decrease their contribution to the problem of antibiotic resistance. These new poultry products might also decrease the number of bacteria-related food recalls in the meat industry, resulting in billions of dollars being saved by companies.
With plant-based protein sales on the rise, the meat industry is already facing competition in this segment. More than one-third of Americans are buying plant-based meat alternatives and over a quarter of consumers were eating less meat in 2017 compared to 2016.