Tyson chicken is not antibiotic-free

Tyson Foods has been claiming to sell “chicken raised without antibiotics” since the summer of 2007, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not consider that label to be “truthful and accurate”:

After Tyson began labeling its chicken antibiotic-free, the USDA warned the company that such labels were not truthful, because Tyson regularly treats its birds’ feed with bacteria-killing ionophores. Tyson argued that ionophores are antimicrobials rather than antibiotics, but the USDA reiterated its policy that “ionophores are antibiotics.”

Because ionophores are not used to treat human disease, however, the poultry company suggested a compromise, accepted by the USDA in December, whereby Tyson would use a label reading “raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans.”

Tyson’s competitors Perdue Farms Inc., Sanderson Farms Inc. and Foster Farms sued, under the banner of the Truthful Labeling Coalition. In May 2008, a federal judge ruled in their favor and told Tyson to stop using the label.

Not long after, on June 3, USDA inspectors discovered that in addition to using ionophores, Tyson was regularly injecting its chicken eggs with gentamicin, an antibiotic that has been used for more than 30 years in the United States to treat urinary tract and blood infections. The drug is also stockpiled by the federal government as a treatment for biological agents such as plague.

“In contrast to information presented by Tyson Foods Inc., [inspectors] found that they routinely used the antibiotic gentamicin to prevent illness and death in chicks, which raises public health concerns,” said USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond.

The main public health concern is the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, which is thought to be related to the widespread use of antibiotics in conventional agriculture.

Tyson Foods is suing the USDA, “claiming that the agency had improperly changed the definition of ‘raised without antibiotics’ to include the treatment of eggs.”

However the lawsuit is resolved, I consider this controversy another reason to avoid buying Tyson chicken. You might want to bring this issue to your school’s administrators or parent-teacher association if they encourage you to buy Tyson products as part of the Tyson Project A+ label collection program.

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