Blog

Progress in the chicken industry

By Bill Wenzel
Director, Healthy Farms, Healthy Families Campaign

Good news for spring chickens and public health: A fast food giant and grocery store staple took meaningful steps towards ending the routine use of antibiotics in their chickens.

Six months ago U.S. PIRG, along with other national organizations and tens of thousands of consumers, convinced Subway to be a leader in protecting public health by committing to phase out the use of antibiotics from its meat over the next 5 years, beginning with chicken by the end of 2016. This week, Subway announced that it will hit its first milestone of that commitment by releasing a new Subway sandwich featuring chicken raised without antibiotics on April 1st. With more restaurants in the U.S. than any other chain, this will send a powerful message to the rest of the industry, and demonstrate the depth of their commitment to public health.

Subway wasn’t alone in touting its good practices. The fourth largest chicken producer in the United States, Perdue, expanded its longstanding commitment to antibiotic stewardship when it released a statement showcasing that it will be the first major brand to convert all its value-added chicken products (strips, nuggets, frozen patties & marinated breasts) to come from birds that have never received human antibiotics. Perdue says that two-thirds of their chickens are now raised without antibiotics. This leadership is important and much needed within an industry that continues to overuse our life-saving medicines.

Cue the applause.

This is consumer power at work. With hundreds of thousands of consumers calling for immediate actions to reduce the overuse of antibiotics, companies are feeling pressure to change their ways, or else risk losing business. And while federal policies meant to reduce antibiotics use in agriculture are unlikely to significantly impact antibiotic use, commitments like these from within the marketplace itself are critical towards ending the overuse of antibiotics once and for all. Both announcements demonstrate the continued progress we’re making in the fight to keep antibiotics working.

Efforts from the likes of Perdue, Subway, and others are critical in the fight against a growing, global public health crisis. Though it’s well known that routine exposure to antibiotics increases the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, roughly 70 percent of medically-important antibiotics sold in the US are for use on food-producing animals, many of which aren’t sick. These livestock and poultry are fed daily, low doses of these life-saving drugs to promote growth and prevent diseases common in factory farm conditions. As a result, resistant “superbugs” grow, multiply, and spread off of farms and into communities, where they can cause illnesses that are difficult, if not impossible, to treat.

One thing is for sure: when it comes to chicken, the industry changing, and consumers can take a lot of credit. The question is, who will be next to help move the marketplace away from practices that threaten public health? We’re looking at KFC.

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