NEW YORK - For the first time in about 90 years, broiler mortality has been trending upward, G. Donald Ritter, a veterinarian with Mountaire Farms, said during a New York Academy of Sciences conference on antibiotics in animal agriculture. The increase coincides with an uptick of meat companies adopting "no antibiotics ever" standards for poultry.

Ritter was one of several scientists to speak on topics related to judicious use of antibiotics and confronting issues with antibiotic resistance during the April 2 conference sponsored by Elanco Animal Health. The conference also was presented as a webinar for audiences outside of New York.

Ritter said a survey of veterinarians who work with companies who have gone toward raising animals without antibiotics showed that the majority of the veterinarians felt that such programs do not enhance the health of animals and that striving for a label designation becomes more important than the actual health of the animals under their care.

"This is a troubling part of the no-antibiotics-ever landscape," he said.

While taste, price, freshness and safety are still the dominant reasons shoppers choose particular products, Ritter said a label announcing an absence of antibiotics is a draw for some consumers.

"It is a growing concern by a growing minority of consumers," he said.

Ritter explained the One Health Certified program under development, which would advocate responsible use of antibiotics, rather than an absence of antibiotics, along with focusing on disease prevention, veterinary care, animal welfare and environmental impact.

Such an effort, he explained, would help promote ways of raising animals that are better for animal health, human health and the environment.

Accurate labeling would provide consumers real information instead of "absence labeling" that often are misleading to consumers who think that by not choosing no-antibiotics-ever products they are "eating antibiotics," Ritter said.

Presentations at the conference discussed ways of reducing - though not eliminating - antibiotic use in animal agriculture. Jason Gil, a researcher from Texas A&M, presented about farm management strategies that can reduce antibiotic resistance, including focusing on biosecurity, proper vaccination, better diagnostics of animals and non-antibiotic treatments for bacterial infections like bacteriophage.

Researchers also discussed ways in which increased Food and Drug Administration oversight had affected antibiotic use, ways that antibiotic resistance can spread and which antibiotics are most important for human health and animal health.

For more information about the event and to read the papers presented at it, visit