Poultry giant Sanderson Farms to end preventative use of medically-important antibiotics

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Today, Sanderson Farms, Inc., the third-largest chicken producer in the United States, announced that it will stop using medically-important antibiotics to prevent disease in its chickens by March 1, 2019. Instead, as recommended by medical professionals, Sanderson Farms will only use the drugs to treat sick animals or to control a disease outbreak.

“This is a welcome change from a company that has ignored both the dangers of antibiotic overuse in the meat industry and concern from consumers for far too long,” said Matt Wellington, Antibiotics Program Director for U.S. PIRG. “Although Sanderson Farms is late to the game on reducing antibiotic use compared to its competitors, better late than never.”  

Sanderson Farms’ action is a change for a company that released a series of ads called the “truth-telling” campaign over the last two years, downplaying the consequences of overusing antibiotics in meat production. In February 2018, 43 percent of Sanderson’s participating shareholders voted for a shareholder resolution put forth by the group As You Sow, urging the company to stop using medically-important antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick.

“Given Sanderson’s historic opposition to reducing antibiotic use, today’s announcement is encouraging and shows that the company realizes it’s no longer acceptable to dose healthy chickens with antibiotics important to human health,” said Wellington.

Although Sanderson Farms is reducing antibiotic use, the company continues to question the link between overusing antibiotics in meat production and the risks to human health. Research repeatedly has shown that routine antibiotic use in livestock and poultry production can breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can travel off the farm and get into communities via water runoff, airborne dust, on the meat itself, or via farm workers. A new study released this month estimates that more than 153,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. Given the potential risks to human health, the World Health Organization recommends a complete restriction of the use of medically-important antibiotics in livestock and poultry to prevent disease.