Probiotics for Chickens – an Alternative to Antibiotics?


Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are sold at no extra charge when Canadians buy chicken at the grocery store. CBC-TV’s Marketplace bought 100 packages of chicken from supermarkets in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. When they tested the samples for disease-causing bugs, they found that two-thirds of them were contaminated with bacteria that “were resistant to at least one antibiotic.” It did not matter if the chickens bore labels such as “antibiotic-free” or “organic.” Superbugs were happy to thrive on any chicken.

Canadians were shocked. They sent dozens of letters and e-mails to the federal Ministry of Agriculture, demanding limits on antibiotics given to poultry. Minister Gerry Ritz’s office responded with the usual bland reassurances.†CBC reports, “Ritz’s letter does not address demands for legislation curbing the use of antibiotics, nor does it comment on viewers’ concerns that antibiotics are often fed to chickens to make them grow fatter, more quickly.”

The Ministry of Agriculture also responded directly to CBC. According to researcher†Gabriel Piette, the Treasury Board is spending $4 million to study options for more natural feed supplements such as antioxidants, probiotic bacteria, cranberry extract or essential oils. Results will be made available in 2013.

Canadians Hungry for Factory-Farmed Chickens

The research sounds promising, and certainly cutting back on unnecessary antibiotic use is important. However, Canadian demand for factory-farmed chicken puts little pressure on conventional producers to stop using pharmaceuticals.

Statistics Canada reports Canadians ate an average of 16.88 kg (37.14 lb.) of chicken in 1980. Twenty years later that rose to 31.10 kg. (68.42 lb.). Assuming an average of 1.5 kg (3.3 lb.) per chicken, the average Canadian eats the meat of 20.73 chickens every year. Multiply that by 33.7 million Canadians, and producers need to raise 700 million chickens to satisfy demand. Add to that commercially-raised laying hens, turkeys and what Statistics Canada lumps together as “fowl” and the amount of antibiotics reaching dinner tables, even in trace amounts, is staggering.

Although people are increasingly worried about antibiotics in meat and the evolution of superbugs, the demand for chicken is not falling. Consumers have power. Until concern is translated into action, producers will have little incentive to adopt healthier standards.

Related Care2 Stories

Canadian Chicken Has Alarming Amounts of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Antibiotics Donít Stand a Chance Against Superbugs

Chicken Nuggets and the Death of Watersheds


Photo from aleutia via Flickr Creative Commons

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Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado3 years ago

Factory farming means a lot of antibiotics.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.4 years ago

Look at the crowded conditions in which the chickens in the above picture are living. Can you really expect to have "healthy meat" when the animals are living in such unnatural conditions? Of course they are treated with antibiotics if they are crammed in such close quarters where disease spread amongst them would happen in a flash. If you love to eat chicken so much and don't want the fall-out from the way they are being treated, then let them have some space and a semblance of a natural life before they are butchered for your tummies. Pretty obvious.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for the post.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for the post.

Chris Ray
Chris R.4 years ago

Maybe it'll encourage more people to stop eating chickens.

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Margaret C.
Margaret C.4 years ago

It hurts me to no end to see the picture attached to this post! Those poor birds, stacked on top of each other, no room to move, barely can breathe, standing in their feces and in the dark. The world is good at slavery (of all types). Sad and disgusting. No one, person or animal, deserves to live or die like this.

Thank you very much Janet G., chickens are smart and make great pets, and if I could I would raise them and a lot of other animals (cows are really nice, too!). And Bridget B., all too true! The animals know what is going to happen to them and their adrenaline surges through their bodies, and that gets into the "meat" that you eat.

I am a vegetarian, so even thinking about eating another spirit makes me feel sick. I wish everyone could just stop eating our animal friends and just live peacefully with them. I know, a piped dream. :(

The Other Robert O
Robert O.4 years ago

One of the many charms of Puerto Rico is the chickens. Chickens patrolling the landscape. Chickens flying down the road. Chickens in trees. Peeping chicks all around. Cats eating chicks... Hundreds of roosters greeting the dawn! Somehow, they never seem like pests.

Thom Loveless
Thom Loveless4 years ago

Ida W
Yes, those chicken beasts are nasty, bit vicious also.

(Sorry just teasing, couldn't resist it)

ida w.
ida I.4 years ago

if you let the chickens roam free, they would be fine. i once bought a pair of chicken beast in UK, in UK if the chicken is not labelled "free range", they are definitely caged. the meat was like mush. totally didn't hold together. i never buy non-free range chicken again after that. and honestly the cage chicken is 20% of an organic chicken. but they are feed with hormones. they are bad for you. in the long run, your medical bill would go up. just eat what you need. a single £10 organic whole chicken is not cheap. but it would last me for 1 week. so it is not that expensive after all. support organic! be humane about our food. i had chicken pets when i was little. they are creatures with feelings too.