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The study itself did not specify the brands used; that information came from co-author Price in his interview with the Forward. In fact, Price said, more Empire chickens were analyzed than any other kosher brand because of the company’s dominance in the market.
Nevertheless, Empire spokesman Eli Rosenfeld declined to comment on Millman’s research, on the grounds that the brands used in the study remain unpublished. “We don’t have a comment because we don’t know what products or what brands they tested,” he said.
On average, Empire processes 240,000 chickens a week at its plant in tiny Mifflintown, Pa. But according to Rosenbaum, today Empire only uses chickens from its own network of hatcheries and farms, where they are fed only antibiotic-free feed from Empire’s own feed mill. Farms that raise Empire’s antibiotic-free chickens do not raise chickens for any other producers, Rosenbaum said.
Empire stopped raising chickens with antibiotics because of consumer demand, said Rosenbaum, who today is president of Palisades Associates, a private equity firm in Bethesda, Md.
Other kosher companies, of course, may well use chickens raised with antibiotics. But according to kosher industry experts Timothy Lytton and Joe Regenstein, “There is no reason to believe that antibiotic use is more intensive, or exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria more likely, in the production of chickens for the kosher market.”
In an opinion piece for the website Food Safety News, Lytton, a professor at Albany Law School and author of “Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food” published recently by Harvard University Press, and Regenstein, a professor of food science at Cornell University, speculated that the lower levels of bacteria in nonkosher chickens could be attributable to the fact that nonkosher chickens are immersed in scalding water to make it easier to remove their feathers. Kashrut prohibits chickens from being cooked until after the meat has been soaked and salted to remove the blood.
“What is the temperature sensitivity of these E. coli? How salt-sensitive are they?” Regenstein asked in an interview with the Forward. “It’s an interesting paper. In the short term, it doesn’t tell anybody anything that’s really useful.”
Study co-author Price acknowledged that the study has no take-away message for consumers.
“It’s not something that can be solved by consumer choice,” he said. “The public needs to know more about how and why antibiotics are used on food animals to produce meat and poultry.”
Levy, co-founder and president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, opined: “The bottom line is, we should remove antibiotics from the raising of chickens and other animals. The potential harm by propagating resistant bacteria in the farm environment is too great.”
Contact Rita Rubin at firstname.lastname@example.org