Broilers raised without antibiotics accounted for 51 percent of total U.S. production in 2018, an 11-point jump from the previous year and, more significantly, up from 3 percent in 2014. “Over the past five years, this market has changed tremendously,” according to Greg Rennier, PhD, president of Rennier Associates Inc., Columbia, Missouri, a firm that tracks poultry-health trends.

Rennier does not expect that number to go much higher, though.  “My guess is it could reach 60 percent over the next year or two and then stabilize,” Rennier said.  In Rennier’s interviews, U.S. poultry companies listed necrotic enteritis (NE) as the number one disease concern in broilers in 2018, followed by coccidiosis.  “These two have been the top two disease concerns over the past five years, basically since the trend started toward raising poultry without antibiotics,” Rennier said.

Thus far, no antibiotic alternatives have provided consistent control of NE.  However, there are several dependable options for managing coccidiosis, which in turns helps to prevent or reduce the impact of NE, Rennier said.

Rennier said the most widely used feed medications in No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) production systems are non-ionophore anticoccidials (NIAs), which include nicarbazin, which is typically used in the winter months only, and zoalene, a feed medication that was reintroduced in 2014 after being out of production for nine years.

“Nicarbazin use has stayed at about the same level for the last 5 or 6 years, where zoalene has really taken off and became the U.S. poultry industry’s leading feed medication,”  Rennier said. While more and more birds are being raised without antibiotics, industry statistics show that 7-day mortality rates have surged to about 1.5 percent or higher, regardless of whether birds are raised NAE or with antibiotics in their feed.  That is twice as high as it was a few years earlier – a trend veterinarians attribute to the decline in antibiotic use in the hatchery, down from about 90 percent in 2013.

Rennier said, it is important to remember that half of the broilers produced in the United States get some type of antibiotic to prevent, control or treat disease.  He has broken these flocks into three categories.

  • Full Spectrum:  Keeps the door open to using the full spectrum of FDA-approved poultry feed medications. Only 8 percent of broilers were raised in Full Spectrum.
  • Reduced Use:  No medically important antibiotics, as designated by FDA. This group accounted for 24 percent of U.S. broilers during 2018, down from 32 percent in 2017 but up from a 5-year low of 19 percent in 2015.
  • Ionophores Only:  Follows WHO guidelines and therefore allows ionophores only. Accounted for 18 percent of U.S. broiler production during 2018, which was down from a five-year high of 36 percent in 2015.
  • No Antibiotics Ever:  No antibiotics in feed. Broilers raised without antibiotics accounted for 51 percent of total U.S. production in 2018 – an 11-point jump from the previous year and up from 3 percent in 2014.