In late April, Tyson Foods made public their intention to stop using human antibiotics on their domesticated chicken flocks by September 2017.
Donnie Smith, Tyson’s President and CEO, explained in a conference call: “As we worked with our animal pharmaceutical partners and with researchers and with others… it’s just the first point at which we felt like we would be in a position to totally eliminate the human-used antibiotics.”
The decision is likely the result of a widespread movement toward more natural food, as well as the new concern that antibiotic use helps create drug-resistant germs.
Tyson is not the only company gearing up for a more natural approach to food: McDonald’s is urging its poultry suppliers to stop using human antibiotics within two years, and Panera and Chipotle both claim to serve antibiotic-free meat.
The company is also considering halting the use of antibiotics in other livestock such as hogs, turkey, and cattle, but they have not committed to a timeline.
Animal welfare groups like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are concerned that the decrease in antibiotics will leave the birds susceptible to disease.
Suzanne McMillan, content director for the Farm Animal Welfare Campaign at the ASPCA, said: “If animal welfare is not addressed in conjunction with pulling back the drugs, this could actually be a very dangerous move for birds and ultimately for consumers.”
The ASPCA recommended that Tyson ensure the health of their antibiotic-free birds by providing them more space and cleaner surroundings, as well as addressing any issues of poor genetics in their flocks.
Tyson has stressed that the majority of its poultry is antibiotic-free, and that any birds that are administered antibiotics are cleared of residuals before being processed.