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Bravo, Tyson Foods! Today the company announced its plan to eliminate antibiotics in the chickens raised for its brand name chicken offerings (breasts, wings, and nuggets). This move by the largest U.S. meat company (in revenue), is indicative of a larger paradigm shift in the chicken industry.

The medical community has been sounding the alarm about meat raised with the routine use of antibiotics and the risks it poses to human health. Consumers have increasingly become aware and engaged. And as a result we’ve seen sweeping changes like the recent announcement from Tyson and previous efforts from Perdue Farms.

The overuse of antibiotics on farms contributes to the rapid growth and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. That’s why Tyson’s steps toward phasing out antibiotic use are a major step forward for public health. As it stands, roughly 70% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use on livestock and poultry. If more major producers follow Tyson’s lead, that number will go down and the chances of preserving antibiotics for the future will go up.

In the last two years, U.S. PIRG and our partners have built consumer support for meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics and have given medical professionals a mega-phone to voice their concerns as well. Due to our collective efforts, McDonald’s has committed to no longer serve chicken raised on medically important antibiotics, as has Wendy’s and Taco Bell. Subway went even further by committing to no longer serve any meat raised on antibiotics. The list of chains moving in the right direction, especially on chicken, is a long one.

With all of this progress in the chicken industry, there is a noticeable absence at the VIP table for antibiotic stewardship. A restaurant that used to have chicken in its very name—KFC. Consumer, health, and environmental groups, including U.S. PIRG, NRDC, Consumers Union, Food Animals Concerns Trust, and more sent Yum! Brands, KFC’s parent company, a letter in January 2016 that called on the company to follow industry leaders like McDonald’s, Subway, and Chick-fil-A in phasing out the routine use of medically important antibiotics in its meat supply.

Fast forward a little more than a year later, and KFC continues to lag behind industry leaders with no concrete commitment to phase out medically important antibiotic use in its chicken supply.

U.S. PIRG and our partner groups have generated nearly 5,000 phone calls into KFC customer service from consumers urging KFC to take this step to protect our life-saving medicines. Our coalition delivered a petition signed by more than 350,000 consumers across the country calling for a strong antibiotics policy. Still nothing. 

Members of the medical community have called on KFC to take this opportunity to protect public health. Still nothing.

Hundreds of hungry consumers are telling KFC via social media that they’re craving a bucket of original recipe but want chicken raised without routine antibiotics. Still nothing.

It’s not just consumers that are opting for meat raised without routine antibiotic use—investors are sensing a change in the tides as well.

Recently Sanderson Farms’ investors voted on a proposal from shareholders that would have required the chicken producer to no longer raise its animals on medically important antibiotics. The proposal ultimately failed to pass. The good news? Investor support hit 30%.

Putting the consumer support and investor benefits aside—what it comes down to is that KFC has an important role to play in saving antibiotics.

Government action has been slow and underwhelming, while marketplace movement has made incredible strides, as seen in Tyson’s recent announcement. As the world’s largest chain of fried chicken restaurants, KFC can help push the chicken industry even further away from overusing our life-saving antibiotics.

We can’t afford to lose the foundations of modern medicine, and thus once again I urge KFC not to chicken out.

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