More than a year after NRDC and thirty-one other public interest groups called on Foster Farms to eliminate routine use of antibiotics, the chicken giant announced that it has made significant progress and set a goal (but no timeline) to completely eliminate antibiotics that are important for human medicine.
And another domino falls’¦ The move follows a wave of announcements by major food companies and chicken producers who have vowed to stop routine use of medically important antibiotics in their flocks. In the past year alone, we have seen four major chicken companies stand up and say this can be done. In total, this accounts for approximately more than a third of all U.S. chicken production – making this a real tipping point. It’s crystal clear the industry now has the tools and infrastructure it needs to raise chickens more responsibly.
So how does Foster Farms stack up with the competition when it comes to protecting antibiotic use?
First, recall that antibiotic resistance is an extremely worrisome problem and is getting worse as essential life-saving antibiotics are beginning to fail – with few or no replacements in the pipeline. Antibiotic resistance occurs when we use antibiotics too frequently, either in human medicine or in livestock production. Most antibiotic classes are used in both human medicine and in livestock production (we call these ‘medically important). When livestock operators use these drugs, some bacteria can become resistant and spread, undermining the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating people.
So having the CEO of Foster Farms stand up in public and say that his company, which processes more than 5 million chickens a week, is getting serious about reducing antibiotics is a big deal. Here are the best parts of their statement:
- Ron Foster says his company is working to eliminate antibiotics that are important for human medicine (we interpret the announcement to mean sick birds will still be treated, which is appropriate).
- Foster Farms has already eliminated gentamicin at company hatcheries. That’s great news because this drug is in a class of antibiotics that are “Highly Important” for human medicine, according to FDA. (I would say this is not a drug that should be injected in broiler eggs routinely).
- Foster Farms says it has increased production of chickens raised without any antibiotics. The company says it has tripled antibiotic-free birds since last year, although it’s hard to know how meaningful that is without knowing the starting number.
- The pledge includes a commitment for third party verification, but no other details are provided.
posted by Andrea Gonzalez 6/1/15