Instead of Antibiotics, Can Oregano Keep Chickens Healthy?
We think of oregano and cinnamon as spices to cook chicken with (if you eat chicken). But they can do more than season a recipe. Some chicken farmers are using oregano and cinnamon to fight bacterial infections in their livestock.
The reason is not only rising consumer demand for antibiotic-free meat, but also the public’s ever-increasing savviness not only about what to eat, but about how it is raised and what substances — pesticides, drugs, hormones to stimulate growth and (in cows) milk production– are used.
Antibiotics are widely used to fight infection in chickens and other livestock who typically live in close quarters. A whopping 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. is used for animals, most of whom are not sick. Oregano oil has long been thought to have health benefits from reducing pain and inflammation to killing off organisms that cause skin and digestive problems. Scientific evidence has so far been hard to come by; one 2002 study found that oregano oil did not cause poultry to grow faster.
Regardless, farmers raising organic poultry and livestock have been eager to find alternatives to antibiotics. In the New York Times, Scott Sechler, owner of the Pennsylvania-based Bell & Evans company (whose products I see at my neighborhood grocery store — I’m a vegetarian but my husband and son do eat some meat), “swears” that a special mix of feed, oregano oil from a Dutch company, Ropapharm International, and cinnamon has staved off bacterial infections from his chickens.
Oregano could be said to be behind Bell & Evans’ success, with consumers wanting antibiotic-free meat. While chickens like Sechler’s only occupy a tiny part of meat sales in the U.S. — sales of organic meat, fish and poultry totaled $538 million in 2011, compared to $79 billion for beef — retailers (from Whole Foods to Costco) cannot get enough antibiotic-free meat and that demand is likely to rise.
CDC Calls For Limiting Antibiotics In Animals
A statement on antibiotics issued in November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 25 other national health organizations specifically called for “limiting the use of medically important human antibiotics in food animals” and only “supporting the use of such antibiotics in animals” in cases in which such is deemed “necessary for assuring animal health.”
Public health authorities have become increasingly concerned about the rise of “superbug” bacteria that are resistant to one or more types of antibiotics. These bacteria can enter the systems of people who eat meat (ground beef, ground turkey) infected with them and then cannot be treated.
We should not feed antibiotics to animals who aren’t sick with bacterial infections. As the Natural Resources Defense Council says, this practice makes ”the drugs doctors rely on to treat illnesses like pneumonia, strep throat, and childhood ear infections less effective.” Antibiotics have their benefits, but with quite a few strings attached. Maybe oregano oil is not the answer to healthy poultry (how about rearing them in humane, cage-free conditions!) but we need to continue efforts to find viable alternatives for their welfare and well-being and for our own.
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