So, what happens if an organic chicken gets sick?

So, basically, the meat that is marketed as never, ever getting any antibiotics sometimes gets antibiotics. Or the farms where the animals are supposedly treated way better sometimes just lets animals get sick.

Somehow I doubt the target market of organic food would be too thrilled about either of these options. Considering how much of the appeal of organic food is the image.

Thanks for clearing it up for us. I’m not going to stand out in front of a grocery store with a sign or anything, but it’s nice to know.

I think you’re misinterpreting organic meat qualification claims a bit here. The point is that most conventional livestock is routinely given antibiotics for prophylactic and/or treatment purposes, so consuming their meat involves ingesting a certain amount of antibiotics residues.

Organic livestock, on the other hand, must not be given antibiotics prophylactically, and if given antibiotics for treatment, must not be slaughtered and processed until the antibiotics are out of its system (hence the required waiting period mentioned by Tapioca Dextrin).

The goal is not to preserve livestock in some kind of lifelong chemical purity where they are never exposed to any “unnatural” substance, but simply to keep humans from ingesting unnecessary antibiotics residues in their meat, milk, etc.

It may not be an exaggeration: British farming as a whole - not just the organic movement - is generally opposed to vaccination. During the really bad foot and mouth outbreak about 10 years ago, vaccination was rejected outright, seemingly on cost grounds, but also because it degrades the perceived quality of the exports once the outbreak is over:

Kimstu - I’m not talking about organic qualifications or certifications, I’m talking about the way it’s marketed to the public. If you ask someone buying the meat, chances are they’ll say that organic beef comes from cows that never get any of those awful chemicals or antibiotics and are treated only slightly less well than the Kobe beef cows. Watch anything on the Food Network or Cooking Channel and you’ll get the same impression.

Looking at actual marketing materials for organic beef makes me think you may be overstating your claim, though. Here are a few examples:

Our delicious & healthy 100% Certified Organic Beef & Certified Organic Beef Products are free of any hormones, antibiotics or additives. […] No Hormones or Antibiotics, our Beef Products don’t have anything in them that Mother Nature didn’t intend for your body to have.

Organic, on the other hand, is a verifiable promise that the beef you are buying is guaranteed to be free of growth-promoting hormones and antibiotics and that the feed the cattle have been given is certified organic.

Organic beef from grass-fed cattle raised without antibiotics or artificial hormones.

Such statements, ISTM, are pretty clear about specifying that the organic meat is antibiotic-free, and that antibiotics and artificial hormones aren’t a standard part of the animals’ diet. Those aren’t misleading claims, and I can see why those are the claims that the marketing materials focus on. After all, those are the issues that news stories have focused on: Are antibiotic residues in our meat bad for us? Are artificial hormones in our animal products bad for us?

I don’t really get the impression that the organic meat industry is specifically trying to mislead consumers about what kind of treatment their livestock get when they’re sick. (In fact, I expect that the organic meat industry, like every other meat industry, would much rather that the possibility of any of their livestock ever being diseased in any way would never even cross your mind at all.)

According to the USDA:

bolding mine.

So it isn’t okay to let your stock die if they get sick, you must use antibiotics if that’s what they need, but you can’t sell it as “organic”.

I call bullshit.

Would that be bullshit with no traces of antibiotics in it?

If you want anecdote: I worked on a special farm for one year. (Because it was specialized into grain development, it was smaller than usual, only 5 to 6 hectares). It was also not a standard organic farm, but an anthroposophical one. They practice “biologic-dynamic” farming, following the method described by Rudolf Steiner in a series of lectures in the 1920s. Steiner was a bit out there, getting interested in Theosophy first before founding his own brand, Anthroposophy. Basically he was getting wisdom from visions, not from science, so phases of the moon and mystical properties of cow horns play a role, which is not the norm for the average organic farmer. (The farmers were also against unneccessary vaccinations in humans because of the anthroposic beliefs, along the line “Tetanus can kill you, so yes to vaccination, but measles are only a children’s disease, so lets skip that”. Lets not derail this thread, I’m just recounting.)

Since the farm was so small, we only had half-a-dozen chickens for private purposes, and none got sick. The cows were also generally in good shape - the good handling was also part of this, like taking a few minutes more during milking to prevent mastitis - , but when they had problems with the hooves, of course the vet came. A normal, state-appointed vet. He prescribed medications necessary, but because of the ideological framework, things like Bach flowers and homopatheic medicine was choosen first. If this didn’t work, then stronger medication was used.

It’s important to remember that antibiotics are not a cure-all or go-to-first choice either in human or animal medicine; with the increasing resistance, in human medicine trying other options so the body immune system can fight it off and saving the big guns last makes sense. And a lot of diseases are treated with non-antibiotic medicine routinely, anyway.

As for your apparent problem with “no antibiotics in the meat” a contradiction or misleading if “animal receives antibiotics in case of serious illness” - that’s why there’s a long waiting period for milk and meat after medicine is given. The vet and animal science knows how long stuff takes to pass through the animal, and then a safety margin is added. This isn’t like Dioxin or the poly-chemicals which are stored in body fat and thus remain there; they pass through and then the meat is “free” again.

Don’t forget also that in order to keep their certification, organic farmers in the EU are visited by a controller once a year, plus a visit from a seperate person from their organic group.
And some of the organic companies that process the meat, milk etc. also conduct random lab tests to be sure that the farmers keep their word and don’t scam the higher prices.

The following applies to the US, but it wouldn’t surprise me other countries or groups like the EU have similar protocols:

Just to point out, all approved medications given to food animals have a window where the animal is required to be kept alive before sending it to the slaughterhouse. It has a specific name, which has escaped my memory this morning (something period). So if a steer is given a shot of penicillin for some pneumonia, that steer requires X days before being sent to the slaughterhouse. This is exactly done to prevent/minimize drug residues in the meat.

Even feed additives (I’m not sure if all, but at least some of them), which are NOT given to treat disease but to increase feed to weight gain conversion, have a period where they cannot be given to animals in the feedlot before going to the slaughterhouse. They have to stop giving them to all the animals X days before. Again, to prevent/minimize drug residues.

And finally, there are some antibiotics which are flat out prohibited. No ifs, buts, or ands.

Is it possible that the required days are not enough? Possibly, and that is probably some of the research USDA does or that is required before a new antibiotic can be approved for use in food animals.

Just to make clear that “non-organic” meat is not shock-full of antibiotics.

It is called the ‘withdrawal period’ and runs 10 to 14 days for most of the common amimal drugs.

However, many of these drugs come with the caveat “A withdrawal period has not been established.” Some of these drugs are administered under an INAD or Investigational New Animal Drug permit. Not to say that the drugs are experimental, just that the process or investigation is lengthy before they become approved for more general use. Some drugs have approved applications for one animal but are still ‘investigational’ for use in others.

Though I’ve never seen organic meat being marketed as “free of antibiotics because antibiotics are bad for you” rather it’s being marketed as “we don’t hand out antibiotics to our animals everyday as the conventional agro industry does because of the side effect of increasing growth, which has bad effects on breeding resistant bacteria strains; plus we have better living conditions for the animals and thus don’t require daily antibiotics for prevention of routine diseases caused by the appalling conditions in the agro-industry”.

Also, how much is the agro-industry controlled regarding use of antibiotics? Every so often there’s a notice how much are used illegaly; and even when they are used with a reason of prevention, how many agro-industry does keep to the prescribed period?

Christian Science practitioner.

Again, most “daily antibiotics” used are called feed additives, and many of them are not the same type as used for disease treatment, and if they are, not even the same dosage. They’re used because they were found to help with feed conversion primarily. And again, they also have a withdrawal period (thanks Dallas, although I seem to remember having to learn that that period could extend past 14 days in some drugs).

I’d say most agribusiness sticks to the law on that one, but then, I’m slightly biased. I am a vet, and thus I don’t think the majority of my colleagues in the food animal industry, whom I’ve known, met, and even attend their lectures, would do something that is illegal for the profession (not to mention my specialty works closely with them). Please remember that some of those antibiotics have to be prescribed by a doctor (the ones for disease treatment, not necessarily the ones labelled as feed additives).

Also, IIRC, the withdrawal period is something that is very much regulated by USDA and other agencies.

Where withdrawal periods and antibiotics may be more of a problem is in the horse rendering industry. Some of those horses may have been given meds that would not have been given to a strictly food animal. And like pointed out, the withdrawal period in that species may not be known.

Originally Posted by MTSBspidey
What happens if an organic chicken gets sick?

It falls off the perch.

What WhyNot and KarlGrenze said: When a critter on an organic farm takes sick, it is either humanely euthanized or treated. If it is treated, it is often moved over to the farm’s non-organic production line in addition to going through the federally mandated withdrawal period before being processed (or having its eggs or milk processed as the case may be).

Veterinarian who misses the world of chickens and their total lack of atopy.

For the chicken, or from the chicken? We could go either way on this.

See, I just too cynical a geezer to believe this sort of Utopian division between “Organic” and Everything Else.

“Organic” means some Federal Guidelines (and feel free to have fun with that) are met. It doesn’t mean compassion; it doesn’t mean “natural state” (whatever that would mean for an industrially-engineered animal) and it doesn’t mean hippies letting chickens and cows run around til it’s time to tenderly slaughter them with love.

I’m not accusing you of saying that, I’m just sayin’…It’s easy to leave the impression that “organic” is somehow more humane.

May I suggest Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for those interested in a fairly practical, fun read about how we make food? He includes a lot of discussion on things “organic” and a lot of sobering thoughtfulness around what we eat and how we produce food.

PS: Kimstu: I have missed you like crazy. I’m all nice now, btw.

Pretty fancy food you’re feeding your organic chicken. Perch isn’t cheap. Try using chicken feed instead of fish.


Is it because of the use of “humanely euthanized”? It is something that is in the AVMA’s bylaws somewhere, and it is something taught to every veterinary student. And it is something that is done without regards to the farm’s organic status or not. If an animal is going to be euthanized by a vet, then it better should be one of the prescribed ways the AVMA has approved as “humane” (for the species and industry). Heck, even slaughtering practices have improved to make them more streamlined and less stressful for the animal.

Also, any food animal, organic or not, can and should receive health care if it is sick. Food animal veterinarians are available for that reason. Again, organic does not enter in the equation.