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“While we were there, we were eating a lot of kosher food, and I was interested in whether kosher is healthier,” he said.
Interested in exploring the question, Millman approached his uncle, Bruce Hungate, a biology professor at Northern Arizona University. Hungate, the director of the university’s Center for Ecosystem, Science and Society, connected him to Price.
Together they designed an experiment to test 10 brands of chicken in each of four categories. Millman did not perform the actual lab tests, but he collected the samples, visited the lab and took the lead in writing up the results. He also presented the findings at the American Society for Microbiology conference in Denver this year.
Millman and the professional scientists with whom he partnered acknowledge that the study, with its relatively small sample size, is not intended to offer the final word on the topic.
“This was big enough for a pilot study, and the finding was dramatic and consistent enough to indicate a problem,” Price told JTA. “Of course there’s a need to follow up with a larger study and larger sample.”
Price said that because the drugs used by companies to raise chickens are “considered a trade secret” in the United States, provided they use FDA-approved antibiotics, it is difficult for researchers to track. He noted that 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics are used each year in meat production, compared to 7.7 million used for human medical purposes.
Millman said he isn’t sure whether more research with raw chickens is in his future, though he remains concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in meat production and its implications for consumer health and the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.
Having varied interests, the high school senior has yet to decide whether he will major in the sciences in college.
“I guess the most important skill that I learned is the importance of asking good questions and being willing to follow where your curiosity takes you,” Millman said.