Tyson meats to end antibiotic use by 2017: What it means

By Debbi Snook, The Plain Dealer, 4/29/15

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Antibiotic use in farm animals got a big push out of the poultry barn this week. Tyson Foods announced it intends to stop feeding human-grade antibiotics to its broiler chickens by 2017.

While antibiotic use once made chickens cheaper to raise by increasing their growth rate, it has also been suspected of creating antibiotic resistance in humans.

The Washington Post reports that antibiotic-resistant infections cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year, more deaths than cause by drug overdoses, cars or firearm assaults.” Antibiotic resistant infections are a global health concern,” said a statement from Donnie Smith, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods.

“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.”

Smith said the company’s antibiotic use is down 80 percent from a few years ago, following an industry wide trend. Perdue eliminated antibiotic use a year ago and, last month, McDonald’s has pledged to do the same within two years.

But Tyson is the country’s largest producer of chicken.

“This is huge,” critic Gail Hansen, told National Public Radio. Hansen is a member of Pew Charitable Trust’s Antibiotic Resistance Project, which is developing a certification project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for antibiotic-free chicken.Tyson also announced plans to study and possibly reduce antibiotic use in its cattle, hog and turkey farms.

Lauren Ketcham, communications chief for the Columbus-based Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, called the Tyson decision encouraging, but not a huge guarantee.

“Given that Tyson is only voluntarily targeting antibiotics used in human medicine — and even then some with exceptions — consumers wanting to avoid eating chicken treated with antibiotics should continue to look for the organic label as the gold standard,” she said in an email.

Medina County meat-animal farmer Jason Bindel said he also worries about the farm use of antibiotics that are not used in human medicine.

“Some animal drugs were not human tested so you have no idea of bad side effects,” he wrote by email. “Animal grade drugs are usually the same formula but sometimes may have additives that are not FDA approved for human use so could be harmful due to allergic reactions.