It’s the stench, a pungent mix of ammonia and wet earth, that gives it away. This neat row of brick buildings in the Dutch village of Bergeijk is a massive chicken farm. Inside the six barns are 175,000 birds, hidden from the neighbors’ view and without any access to the outdoors or even natural light. To see them, visitors must slip into sterile blue jumpsuits and plastic booties, a low-tech but effective type of biosecurity that stops people from sneaking in any dangerous bacteria—or taking anything out.
Precautions are especially important now, but not because the flock of birds looks sick or particularly unhappy. New government rules have forced farmers like Kees Koolen to cut their use of antibiotics, which for decades has served as a cheap and easy way to keep birds healthy and plump for their short, 6-week lives. Koolen, a 55-year-old with a round face, ruddy cheeks, and pale blue eyes, has been raising meat birds, or “broilers,” for 30 years, and he wasn’t keen on the idea of giving up his wonder drugs. But in just 3 years, Koolen has successfully cut the antibiotics used on his farm by 55% without making any substantial changes to production.
The Netherlands—arguably America’s agricultural twin—has drastically reduced its use of antiobiotics in meat, and Dutch citizens are already reaping the health benefits. So what is the U.S. waiting for? In my latest story for Prevention Magazine, I explore how the Netherlands is getting antibiotics off its farms and what the United States needs to do to follow suit. Take a look and let me know what you think.