I was reading through some articles on antibacterial botanicals the other day, and I stumbled across an application of botanicals that really surprised me: antibacterial botanicals in organic poultry production. What are they doing there?!
Conventional poultry production makes use of antibiotic agents to increase growth (generally by limiting energy spent on dealing with infections) . Not surprisingly this has led to concerns about the development of bacterial resistance [1, 2].
Now what happens in organic poultry production? To qualify for an “organic” classification, producers are not allowed to use conventional antibiotics . What do these producers use instead?
This article dealt with the potential for botanicals to be used in place of conventional antibiotics to achieve this same result in organic poultry . This is an interesting idea. Substituting botanical antibiotics in poultry production bypasses the safety nets created to avoid the problems associated with conventional antibiotics. It replaces the types of antimicrobial agents that are typically used and puts us closer to the development of bacteria resistant to our botanical antimicrobials. However, plants do contain other properties that can be beneficial to the poultry by stimulating the immune system or promoting the general health of the bird so that it is able to fight infections more effectively.
Recent research reveals that organic poultry have lower rates of antibiotic resistant infections, so the use of plants in this context does not seem to be problematic in terms of creating resistant bacteria…yet [4, 5]. Keep in mind that if we allow the widespread use of botanical antimicrobials at sublethal doses for organic poultry production it may only be a matter of time before we have the same problem as we have with resistant bacteria in conventional poultry.
These botanicals are still acting like antibiotics and it is important to treat them as such. Indeed, one article I read specifically stated that the organic farms do not use any antimicrobials, which implies that botanicals weren’t even considered as part of this whole picture . This is not so much about whether it is good or bad to use antibiotics (conventional or botanical) in livestock production. It’s more a question of why the botanicals are not considered as antibiotics, and treated with as much caution.
Plants can be very potent and when a plant is an effective antibacterial agent, we cannot classify it as less than a conventional antibiotic. If we add antibacterial botanicals to our poultry we need to respect the power of the plant and give it its due recognition as an antimicrobial agent. And yes, the organic chicken you just ate probably was treated with botanical antimicrobials – in fact, you may have even seasoned your chicken with herbs containing antimicrobial properties! Bon appetit!
4. Luangtongkum T, Morishita TY, Ison AJ, Huang S, Mcdermott PF, Zhang Q. Effect of conventional and organic production practices on the prevalence and antimicrobial resistance of Campylobacter spp. in poultry. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2006;72(5):3600-7.
5. Sapkota AR, Hulet RM, Zhang G, et al. Lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant Enterococci on U.S. conventional poultry farms that transitioned to organic practices. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(11):1622-8.