The third largest chicken producer in the United States, Perdue made the announcement on Wednesday in a statement and press conference it held in Washington, D.C.
“When we started hearing from consumers that they were becoming concerned about the amount of antibiotics used to raise chickens they were buying, we were listening,” said company chairman Jim Perdue. “Coupled with information coming from the USDA and FDA and other sources, we began to look critically at our practices. It wasn’t easy…but we found along the way that we could raise healthy chickens with fewer antibiotics.”
The reduction occurred in stages, with this recent announcement coming after the conclusion of a five-year project to cease antibiotic use in its hatcheries. Perdue claims that human antibiotics are no longer used in 95 percent percent of its chickens.
Antibiotics are commonly used to boost the growth of livestock and poultry and to prevent the animals from contracting diseases in their close-quartered environments. Since the 1970s, medical and regulatory authorities have voiced growing concerns that this practice is leading to stronger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, leading to resurgences of dormant diseases and fiercer strains of existing ones. In 2013, the FDA asked farmers to voluntary cease or reduce their use of human antibiotics in food animals, stating that the bacteria passed from meat to humans would be immune to human antimicrobials. A bill is currently pending in California that would make the restriction mandatory.
In its press release, Perdue states that it no longer uses any antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in its chickens, and that the 5 percent of chickens that do still receive human antibiotics are administered to only temporarily and with a veterinarian’s prescription. In addition to these reforms, Perdue no longer injects antibiotics into meat chickens while they are still in their shells. Ionophore, an animal antibiotic, is still used on the birds, but in less quantities, according to Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, Senior Vice President of the company’s Food Safety, Quality and LIve Operations.
Stewart-Brown said that chickens’ diets were improved to compensate for the reduction in antibiotics.
“We appreciate Perdue’s initiative, but they produce only 7 percent of the broilers produced in the U.S. Other companies should follow suit,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “Broilers” refers to broiler chickens, which are primarily raised for meat.
“I hope Perdue’s actions foreshadow changes across the industry, and embolden regulators to prohibit the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.