Issues and Advocacy

Organic Agriculture: Is it Safer?

Activists who oppose the use of animal antibiotics have suggested that consumers buy organic products as a protective measure against antibiotic resistance. But several studies have compared both live animals and meat products from organic systems versus conventional systems, and have consistently shown that there is little microbiological difference.

The incidence of bacteria – in both resistant organisms and not-resistant organisms – is about the same in organic meats and conventional meats. These findings suggest that antibiotic resistant bacteria can arise from several sources, not just antibiotic use on the farm.

Studies Confirm No Difference Between Organic and Conventional Agriculture

“As a group, the premium chickens (organic and free-range) were not significantly more free of microbes than others.”

Consumer Reports of Birds and Bacteria
February 2005

“Antibiotic resistance of mastitis pathogens from farms with organic and conventional production was compared. Differences in the percentage of resistance were mainly species-dependent, but there were no differences between isolates from cows held on organic or conventional farms… Antibiotic resistance on organic farms was similar to conventional farms.”

Roesch et al.
Journal of Dairy Science Interpretive Summary
March 2006 (8

“The prevalence of C. jejuni and C. coli plus other Campylobacter species in conventionally raised broilers was 66 percent, while the prevalence of these organisms in conventionally raised turkeys was 83 percent. In terms of the organic poultry production systems, the prevalences of Campylobacter spp. In organically raised broilers and organically raised turkeys were 89 percent and 87 percent respectively.”

Luangtongkum, et al.
“Effect of Conventional and Organic Production Practices on the Prevalence and Antimicrobial Resistance of Campylobacter spp.”
Poultry Applied and Environmental Microbiology May 2006, pgs. 3600-3607.

“With the exception of the prevalence of bacteria resistant to chloramphenical and ceftiofur, there was little difference in the microbiological parameters of beef derived from cattle raised conventionally and cattle claimed to be raised without microbial agents.”

LeJeune et al.
“Microbiological Quality of Ground Beef from Conventionally-Reared Cattle and “Raised without Antibiotics” Label Claims”.
Journal of Food Protection
Vol. 67, No. 7, 2004, pgs. 1433-1437.

“We found a high prevalence of resistance to tetracycline, sulfanomides, and stremptomycin in all commercial flocks, although these drugs were not used in most cases. These results were supported by data from the experimental flocks which demonstrated that even in controlled settings with clean pens and fresh bedding, there was high prevalence of resistance to antimicrobials not commonly used in broiler chicken husbandry. These data are similar to data in previously published studies that illustrated that usage patterns may not correlate with resistance prevalence.”

Smith et al.
“Impact of Antimicrobial Usage on Antimicrobial Resistance in Commensal Escherichia coli Strains Colonizing Broiler Chickens.”
Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Mar. 2007, pgs. 1404-1414.

“Studies directly comparing conventional and niche-market production systems for dairy, swine, poultry and produce have observed that the prevalence of foodborne pathogens was seldom statistically different between production systems, but when differences were observed, prevalence was typically higher for the niche-market production systems than the conventional production systems. The published literature suggests that the perception of niche-marketed food products being safer and healthier for consumers with regard to foodborne pathogens may not be justified.

Fox, et al.
“Niche Marketing Production Practices for Beef Cattle in the United States and Prevalence of Foodborne Pathogens”
Foodborne Pathogens and Disease
Vol. 5, Number 5, 2008