A Major Poultry Producer Is Going Cold Turkey by Cutting All Antibiotics

Perdue announced last year that it would get rid of drugs important to human medicine—now it's getting rid of animal-only medicines too.

(Photo: 'The Washington Post'/Getty Images)

Jul 8, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

In less than a year, the standards for American chicken have changed in a massive way: Leading producers, including Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue, and Foster Farms have announced they are moving away from raising birds with antibiotics important to human medicine. Furthermore, massive retail and restaurant buyers of poultry, including Costco and McDonald’s, have said they will stop sourcing birds raised with drugs important to treating people.

Now Perdue, the third-largest poultry producer in the United States, is upping the stakes: The company announced Wednesday that it is phasing out all antibiotics, including those used only on animals.

“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.” Jim Perdue, the company’s chairman, said in a press release.

So, Why Should You Care? Overuse of antibiotics in livestock is contributing to the development of bacterial “superbugs,” which resist standard treatment regimes. Such antibiotic-resistant infections result in 23,000 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, 96 percent of the Perdue’s flock is not treated with human antibiotics, and fully half of the birds are never treated with antibiotics of any kind. It’s a public health victory for sure, but since consumers don’t necessarily differentiate between human and animal antibiotics, being able to slap “NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER” on its products gives Perdue an edge at the meat counter.

But while the “no, none, and all, not ever” statement may be trademarked, it isn’t necessarily audited—which is the only bit of criticism the Natural Resources Defense Council could muster in response to the news.

As Jonathan Kaplan wrote in NRDC’s Switchboard blog, “we understand that a significant percentage of the company’s chicken products are not audited by any independent third party.” Some of Perdue’s chicken is labeled antibiotic-free under the USDA’s Processed Verified program, but not all. “In an industry where production practices are kept secret, and cheating has occurred,” Kaplan continued, “we’d like to see corporate pledges to reduce antibiotics backed by third-party verification.”