Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beware the chicken truck

Researchers: Chicken trucks may spread drug-resistant bacteria

Driving behind a chicken truck with the windows rolled down not only may smell bad, but it could be exposing motorists to a harmful bacteria, according to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers.

“It’s enough of a concern that we should consider improving the transportation methods,” said Ana Rule, a research associate at the Baltimore school’s environmental sciences department and co-author of a study on exposure from trucks transporting broiler chickens published this past month in the first issue of the Journal of Infection and Public Health.

Rule and two other researchers, Ellen Silbergeld and Sean Evans, found that trucks carrying live chickens from farms to slaughterhouses may be releasing a drug-resistant bacteria into the air.

Researchers trailed two or three car lengths behind a chicken truck for 17 miles along the Delmarva peninsula. Air conditioners and fans were turned off, and the windows were all open. Chickens are transported in open cages on flatbed trucks.

“We wanted to do the worst case scenario,” Rule said.

Researchers found increased concentration of bacteria in air samples collected from inside the car and on surfaces in the car such as the door handle.

However, researchers don’t know how much of a hazard the levels found are, Rule said.

“We don’t know what’s normal. ... All we know is the levels are higher,” she said.

About 20 percent of the bacteria were resistant to the antibiotics tetracycline, erythromycin and quinupristin/dalfopristin.

These drugs are all approved for use in broiler chickens, suggesting that giving chickens antibiotics leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers said. Antibiotics have been used for more than 40 years to keep chickens healthy, according to the poultry industry.

A study released this past year by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, an independent group formed to review the farm animal industry, also raised concerns about antibiotic use in farm animal production as a source of resistant bacteria. The group called for restrictions in the use of antibiotics.

“We’d love to see producers do something about that,” Rule said.

Bill Satterfield, executive director of nonprofit Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., based in Georgetown, Del., said the study was the latest attempt to “discredit and embarrass the industry.”

Satterfield noted that co-author Silbergeld has been a long-time opponent of poultry industry practices such as antibiotic use. He also raised questions with the “unrealistic” conditions used in the study.

“Those bacteria would be the least of your problems if you’re tailgating a chicken truck for 17 miles,” he said.

The containers used to transport chickens are designed to keep the chickens cool, he said, calling it an “animal welfare concern.”

They were lucky they were not pelted with live chickens trying to fly the coupe. I see them up and down the interstate all the time and they are fat bastards too.

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