Animal health, growth performance, food safety, economics, sustainability


Broiler production has evolved significantly over the years to meet a constant growing demand for animal protein. Rooted on major advances in genetics, facilities and environmental conditions, management, and specially, in nutrition and health, the U.S. broiler industry improved tremendously in productivity and efficiency, clearly demonstrated by a marked reduction of the average market age (i.e., days to market), while significantly increasing average market weight, breast meat yield and feed efficiency (National Chicken Council, 2023). For decades, conventional broiler production was dominant, with extensive use of antibiotics to promote growth and manage disease challenges (prevention and control). However, concerns over the excessive use of antibiotics in conventional broiler production raised questions about its impact on public health, regarding the increasing occurrence of antimicrobial resistance. Increasing consumer pressure combined with different marketing strategies adopted by key players in the U.S. poultry industry to differentiate and capture higher value promoted the rapid emergence of different production approaches, resulting in a variety of “negative labels” for their final products reaching consumers, such as: Grown without antibiotics, raised without antibiotics, humanely raised without antibiotics, no antibiotics, no added antibiotics, raised without added antibiotics, no antibiotics important for human medicine, no medically important antibiotics, no human antibiotics, no antibiotics ever, and others. However, what started as a marketing differentiation strategy quickly became widespread and common in the industry. Consequently, the economic viability of broiler production without the use of antibiotics has become a subject of ongoing debate and analysis within the poultry industry, with some producers switching back to the practice of using antibiotics (some categories, such as antibiotics not important in human medicine). However, this type of analysis is never easy or straightforward, as a multitude of factors should be taken into consideration. Here, we attempt to discuss two contrasting broiler production systems, conventional versus no antibiotic ever (NAE), as they represent both ends of the spectrum, regarding the use of antibiotics or no use at all being allowed. The discussion is focused primarily on differences in animal health, growth performance, and food safety. Other areas, such as economics and sustainability are outside the scope of this discussion, but will briefly be touched on, as ultimately, both are directly impacted by the main topics of focus.