Consumers Union calls for complete ban on antibiotics in organic chicken 1/14
If you look for the “organic” label to ensure you are buying chicken that was never treated with antibiotics, you may be surprised to learn that the organic regulations contain a loophole. Federal organic law and regulations strictly prohibit antibiotics in organic livestock production (sick animals must be treated - with antibiotics, if necessary - but animals treated with antibiotics cannot be sold as “organic”). But the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently allows routine non-therapeutic injections of antibiotics to chickens that are still in the egg as well as on the first day of their lives. This exception in the organic standards exists only for poultry.
One of the most common antibiotics administered to day-old chicks in conventional hatcheries for the prevention of disease is gentamicin, which is classified by the World Health Organization as "critically important" for human medicine (it is the sole therapy or one of few alternatives to treat serious human disease). Its routine use to prevent disease in day-old chicks is disconcerting in any segment of agriculture, but especially when those chicks are raised on organic farms starting on the second day of their lives, and eventually sold as “organic.”
In a formal request, we urged the USDA to clarify the organic regulations to specifically prohibit antibiotic use in all stages of an organic chicken’s life - including in the egg and on their first day of life. Antibiotics are prohibited at all stages of life for other organic livestock species, so this clarification would bring the organic standards for poultry in line with the organic standards for other livestock.
In the meantime, you can avoid organic chicken treated with antibiotics by looking for two labels on the package: the organic label and a “no antibiotics - ever” or similar claim. Until the USDA takes action to close the loophole, only the combination of these two claims provides assurance that the chicken you’re buying was never treated with antibiotics.