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In The News: Which (Antibiotic) Came First? The (One Fed To The) Chicken Or The (One Injected Into) The Egg?

Posted Aug 24 2008 6:44pm
Ready for a real doozy from the world of chicken raising, antibiotic feeds, and USDA policies?

Alright, buckle up!

It was reported earlier this week that Judge Richard D. Bennett of the United States District Court in Baltimore ordered chicken giant Tyson to pull all advertisements from their "chickens raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans" campaign by no later than May 18 .

Mind you, this campaign was originally billed as “chickens raised without antibiotics.” The United States Department of Agriculture happily gave it the green light.

Until, that is, they went back and realized they had made a boo boo.

Turns out Tyson includes antibiotic compounds known as ionophores in their chicken feed.

Ionophores are commonly fed to chickens mainly as protection from a parasitic intestinal condition known as coccidiosis, as well as to help them gain weight.

The USDA quickly drafted a letter to Tyson, notifying them that their “no antibiotics added” claim wasn’t entirely true. Consequently, they were asked to remove it from all packaging.

Tyson rebutted by arguing that ionophores are classified by the Food & Drug Administration as antimicrobials, not antibiotics.

Well, not quite. Although the FDA recognizes that ionophores have antimicrobial properties , they are technically antibiotics when used as part of chicken feeds.

Tyson additionally claimed that ionophores are not a concern since they do not impact antibiotic resistance in humans, nor are they used in human drugs.

After this back and forth, the claim was changed to “chickens raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans.”

If you’re wondering why the use for such convoluted language, it’s simple.

Tyson, like many other chicken companies, injects chicken eggs with antibiotics approximately 2 days before they hatch.

Ergo, by using the word “raised,” they only advertise what happens with the chicken after it is born.

Largely due to pressure from Tyson's competitors (which claim Tyson is misleading consumers), this updated claim is now being axed.

This specific case doesn't so much revolve around the “rights” and “wrongs” of including ionophores in chickenfeed, but the idea of misleading advertising and technicalities.

It is worth pointing out that as a result of increasing consumer need for antibiotic-free food, chicken farmers are considering viable alternatives, including vaccination against a variety of illnesses.

What do you think? Was Tyson misleading? Do you specifically seek out antibiotic-free poultry?

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