Antibiotic free chicken production: Tyson Foods shifts up a gear

© iStock

Tyson Foods is set to switch its retail line of company-branded chicken products to birds raised without any antibiotics.

The company announced the decision as part of its presentation to the Consumer Analyst Group of New York on Tuesday (21 February).

Worth Sparkman, spokesperson for Tyson Foods, told us those ‘no antibiotic ever’ (NAE) branded products will be rolled out in June. 

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The initiative will make Tyson Foods the largest producer of chicken that was raised using no antibiotics ever, said the US processor. 

“We’ve been producing ‘No Antibiotics Ever’ chicken since 2013 with the introduction of Nature Raised Farms brand, and, more recently, with the introduction of the Tyson naturals products. These products are currently a small percentage of our business, but we expect them to grow," said Sparkman. 

Welfare concerns 

The move away from the use of antibiotics in that retail line does not mean that birds will be neglected if they develop an illness or injury, he stressed.

“It would be inhumane to let birds suffer, so that’s not an option,” said Sparkman. “Birds that become ill will be treated with the appropriate medicines as prescribed by a veterinarian.”

In removing antibiotics from feed or use with poultry raised for these lines, the company has turn to alternative products including work with probiotics, said Sparkman.

“Other examples include essential oils, or botanicals, which are plant extracts that can also be good for digestive health,” he said. “We continue to test new alternatives to antibiotics.”

Tyson previously said it would remove antibiotics that are important to human medicine from its broiler production by autumn 2017.

The company started to limit the use of antibiotics important to human medicine in 2011. By October 2014, it had ended the use of any antibiotic at its 35 broiler chicken hatcheries and, in January of 2015, it stopped using antibiotics in company-owned feed mills producing broiler feed.

Market trend

Tyson Foods is not the only US company working to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in the past few years.

Processors like Perdue Foods and Cargill also have also carried out similar reduction work.

Perdue started its efforts to limit the use of antibiotics in its chicken production in 2002; in 2014, it announced it had removed all antibiotics from its hatcheries.

Similarly, Cargill said last year it would reduce the amount of antibiotics used in its cattle production and has been tracking consumers’ responses in relation to antibiotic use in livestock production.

However, others, like Sanderson Farms said they are not planning on following the trend, claiming the evidence linking the use of antibiotics in poultry production to an increase in bacteria resistant to antibiotics important for human health is lacking. Antibiotics, added Sanderson, support the industry in sustainability efforts.

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