In the realm of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, the focus is often on injuries, rehabilitation, and the overall well-being of the patient. However, as a medical professional, it’s essential to recognize the broader health implications that can arise from our daily choices, including our diet. One such concern is the widespread use of antibiotics in poultry farming, a topic extensively covered in Maryn McKenna’s “Big Chicken.” Drawing from various reviews and insights, this article aims to shed light on the medical implications of antibiotic use in the poultry industry.

A Historical Overview

The transformation of the poultry industry over the past century is nothing short of remarkable. From a modest 154 million chickens sold for meat in the US in 1909, we now see over 9 billion chickens sold annually. A significant factor behind this explosive growth is the introduction of antibiotics, not just as a disease treatment but also as a growth promoter.

Antibiotics: A Medical Marvel with Unintended Consequences

Antibiotics have been a cornerstone of modern medicine, saving countless lives from bacterial infections. However, their overuse in the poultry industry has led to a surge in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These “superbugs” can cause infections that are challenging to treat, posing a significant threat to public health. As a physician, this means encountering patients with infections that no longer respond to traditional antibiotics, complicating treatment protocols.

The Ripple Effect on Human Health

The implications of antibiotic use in poultry extend beyond the realm of bacterial resistance. Consuming antibiotic-laden chicken can lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. These infections can manifest in various ways, from gastrointestinal disturbances to more severe conditions like urinary tract infections. For individuals with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions, the consequences can be even more dire.

The Path Forward: Awareness and Action

The global medical community is becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of antibiotic overuse in agriculture. The European Union’s ban on antibiotic growth promoters in 2006, followed by the US in 2017, is a testament to this growing awareness. However, antibiotics are still used in sub-therapeutic doses for “prophylactic reasons” in big agriculture in the United States. As medical professionals, it’s crucial to advocate for responsible antibiotic use and educate our patients about the potential health risks associated with consuming antibiotic-treated poultry.


While my primary focus remains on orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, the broader health implications of our societal choices cannot be ignored. “Big Chicken” serves as a timely reminder of the interconnectedness of our food system, public health, and medical practice. As we move forward, it’s essential to champion practices that prioritize both individual and public health. If you’re looking for antibiotic free meat grown locally in Baton Rouge, please visit the website for our family farm, Willow Creek Ranch. If you’re looking for organic vegetables grown locally in Baton Rouge without synthetic pesticides or herbicides, we recommend Fullness Farm.

Dr. Jeremy Burnham, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine based in Baton Rouge, LA. With a keen interest in wellness and health, Dr. Burnham emphasizes the importance of informed choices in diet and lifestyle for optimal well-being.

Sources: National Geographic, Kirkus Reviews, NPR,

Injured? Plan Your Comeback Now...

Injured? Plan Your Comeback Now...