Some smaller restaurants and grocery stores have previously complained that there aren’t enough chicken farms out there producing antibiotic-free poultry. Many have been calling on larger fast food and family restaurant chains to demand drug-free birds, thus forcing producers to change how they raise their chickens. A company the size of Chick fil-A making such a commitment could go a long way toward shifting the level of demand.
“A shift this significant will take some time, as it requires changes along every point of the supply chain – from the hatchery to the processing plant,” said Tim Tassopoulos, executive vice president of operations of Chick- fil-A in a statement. “Our suppliers are committed, and we pledge to have this conversion complete within five years or sooner based on supply chain readiness.”
The chain plans to provide quarterly updates on its website starting in 2015 so that interested consumers can see how much progress is being made.
For decades, poultry, pig, and cattle farmers have been providing their livestock with medically unnecessary antibiotics, often for the sole purpose of encouraging tissue growth. In some cases, the drugs were given as a prophylactic to prevent against the spread of disease in particularly confined and/or filthy conditions.
Either way, study after study has demonstrated that the over-use of these antibiotics has resulted in the development of drug-resistant pathogens. Additionally, it’s believed that these antibiotics have made their way into the systems of the humans who eat meat from these animals.
After decades of inaction — and only after a lawsuit sought to compel the agency to act on the orders of Congress — the FDA recently introduced voluntary guidelines that asked drug companies to stop selling antibiotics to farmers for non-medical uses.
Critics, including Consumerist, have pointed out that all this toothless guidance does is make farmers change the reason they buy the drugs; it has no effect on whether they are used or not.
Farm animal-related purchases account for half of the antibiotics purchased in the U.S. each year, but reps for the largest drug companies have stated that the FDA guidelines will have no significant impact on their bottom lines.
For its part, Chick-fil-A says it is asking its chicken suppliers to work with the USDA to verify that no antibiotics are administered at any point.
The folks Keep Antibiotics Working, a group that seeks to limit the use of these drugs on farm animals, says in a statement to Consumerist that it is happy with Chick fil-A’s announcement.
“In the wake of the Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak linked to antibiotic-resistant chicken, it seems ever clearer that what is good for public health is also good for business — in the long term,” says KAW, which points to the financial success of Chipotle, one of the few chains to take a stance against antibiotics. “Consumer expectations are changing, and the routine use of antibiotics to raise animals is no longer acceptable. We hope that Chick-fil-A’s transition will occur sooner than 5 years from now, and anticipate that other restaurants will follow.”
You can now follow Chris on Twitter: @themorrancave