Perdue Says Half Its Chickens Now Raised Without Any Antibiotics At All

Almost a year ago, Perdue — one of the biggest names in chicken — announced its hatcheries would cease using antibiotics that were medically important to human beings, and today the company said that it has reached a milestone in the move to curb the dangerous overuse of these vital drugs, claiming that more than half of its birds are now being raised without the use of any sort of antibiotics at all.

Antibiotics sold for use in animal feed accounts for more than three quarters of all antibiotics currently sold in the U.S., with most of those drugs being used primarily because they are believed to result in bigger cows, pigs, and chickens.

“We believe consumers are concerned about the use of all antibiotics, not just some. Through our No Antibiotics Ever chickens, we want to give them a choice that carries transparency and confidence,” said company Chairman Jim Perdue about today’s announcement.

The drugs are often put into the animals’ feed and water, providing the creatures with a steady, sub-therapeutic dose of the antibiotics. It’s this regular, low-dose use that scientists say most contributes to the development of drug-resistant pathogens that sicken more than 2 million Americans every year, killing around 20,000.

In late 2013, after decades of ignoring the issue, the FDA asked the drug companies that sell these antibiotics to cease marketing them for non-medical purposes, but since almost all of the affected drugs were approved for both therapeutic and growth-promotion uses, this allowed farmers to simply change the reason they were using the drugs without changing how much they were giving their animals.

Perdue says its new “more than 50% drug-free” figure includes antibiotics that are not deemed medically important to humans. While the focus of the fight against antibiotic abuse has focused on drugs used on both humans and farm animals, it’s also important to remember that the overuse of any antibiotic is only going to encourage the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.

“We’re going to continue to reduce our use of animal-only antibiotics,” said Bruce Stewart Brown, DVM, Perdue’s senior vice president of food safety, quality and live production, in a statement, “so that we’re raising as many chickens as we can with no antibiotics of any kind – and offering that choice to consumers.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Jonathan Kaplan points out that going completely drug-free is a very smart marketing move for Perdue.

“By eliminating the animal-only drugs… the company can put ‘no antibiotics ever’ labels on its products, and likely get some consumer recognition for its antibiotic stewardship efforts,” writes Kaplan. “That’s good for Perdue, good for consumers, and will likely help grow consumer awareness and expectation for meat and poultry produced without reliance on these drugs.”

At the same time as he applauds the company’s announcement, Kaplan calls for increased transparency and third-party verification of these sorts of claims, as this sort of independent vetting would only give consumers more confidence that they aren’t possibly being misled.

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