Tyson To Further Cut Back On Unnecessary Antibiotics Given To Chickens

Last year, Tyson, the nation’s largest poultry provider, announced it would cease using controversial antibiotics at its hatcheries, but left the door open for continued use of the growth-promoting drugs for birds as they matured. Today, the company is pledging to go even further by eliminating “human antibiotics” entirely from its flocks by Sept. 2017.

For decades, farmers have been feeding antibiotics — including drugs that are of vital medical importance to human beings — to chicken, pigs, and cows primarily for the non-medical use of promoting growth. In fact, around 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use on livestock.

Unfortunately, the overuse of antibiotics has the unwanted consequence of also promoting the development of drug-resistant bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 2 million Americans fall ill from drug-resistant pathogens each year, with some 20,000 dying as a result.

“Antibiotic resistant infections are a global health concern,” said Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods in a statement. “We’re confident our meat and poultry products are safe, but want to do our part to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so these medicines can continue working when they’re needed to treat illness.”

Because Tyson is more than just a chicken company, it claims to be forming working groups with farmers and others in its beef, pork and turkey supply chains to “discuss ways to reduce the use of human antibiotics on cattle, hog and turkey farms.”

Tyson’s latest announcement comes on the heels of similar moves by McDonald’s, Perdue, Chick fil-A, and others who have promised to reduce the use of antibiotics in their chickens.

The Natural Resource Defense Council’s Sasha Stashwick believes the sheer size of Tyson — which churns out some 38 million broiler chickens each week — means we may be nearing the tipping point where antibiotic-free chickens become the norm.

“Among the top 20 broiler companies (which likely control nearly all of the nation’s broiler chicken production), Tyson controls 23%,” writes Stashwick. “Combined, the production volumes of Perdue… Pilgrims (which announced this month that it will eliminate all antibiotics from 25% of its flock), and Fieldale Farms (which we gather is nearly all antibiotic-free) add up to 38% of all the chickens raised by the top 20 companies in the industry. That sure looks like a tipping point!”

Steve Roach, senior analyst for Keep Antibiotics Working says the important thing is for restaurants and retailers to take advantage of the increased supply of these drug-free (or less-drugged) chickens.

“While the chicken industry as a whole is making great strides in reducing antibiotic overuse, it begs the question: why are the turkey, pork and beef industries lagging so far behind?” He asks.