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AFF Sentinel Vol 20#32-One Packer Does Us a Favor

Tyson Takes Big Step

Source: Steve Dittmer | AFF Sentinel

Colorado Springs, CO

Sent to subscribers 07/06/2023

Once in a while, the chicken people do us a favor.

The beef industry has gotten a very unfair rap when it comes to antibiotics. Especially the alleged contribution of antibiotic use in cattle and the development of resistance to antibiotics in humans.

Meticulous research spearheaded by Colorado State University* involving institutions in the U.S. and Canada showed that the biological precursors of antibiotic resistance did not survive the extensive interventions of modern beef processing.** Therefore, without the carriers of antibiotic resistance in the meat, beef could not be responsible for engendering antibiotic resistance in humans eating beef.

Of course, that research got little notice in the general media or the nutrition and health “experts” that continue to blame meat for antibiotic resistance in humans.

A subset of this problem has been ionophore growth promotants in cattle, some of which technically fall into the category of antibiotics but have little similarities to antibiotics used either for sub-therapeutic use or at therapeutic dosages. Neither the medical or nutrition community usually grasp the difference.

So what does this have to do with chickens?

It didn’t seem to get much media attention but Tyson made a big announcement a few days ago. It is dropping its “No Antibiotics Ever” label claim, mostly because it needs ionophores -- again technically antibiotics -- not as growth promotants but as coccidiostats. Tyson was careful to explain that it still wasn’t going to use any antibiotics important to humans. In addition, the WHO doesn’t consider ionophores to be medically important to humans, (“Tyson Foods Drops `No Antibiotics Ever’ Chicken Label,” Wall Street Journal, 07/03/23).

So if anyone is paying attention, they would learn that ionophore use in animals is not medically significant to humans and even the notoriously picky WHO is not concerned.

Tyson made the shift to “no antibiotics” in 2017. USDA reports that 70 percent of chicken sold in 2021 was marketed as “no antibiotic” chicken. Perdue’s chicken is marketed as no antibiotic chicken and JBS’s Pilgrim’s Pride said about a quarter of its production is no antibiotic chicken.

Given chicken’s attempt to create an image of a lily white health meat, we’re sure Tyson gave major deliberation to this move. We’re no experts in coccidiosis in chickens but in cattle it can be a significant drain on the animal’s health and certainly drops efficiency and gain. Poultry supplies are up, there is price pressure right now, poultry processors are seeing tight margins and beef is getting premium prices. So, besides any production efficiencies Tyson would gain from controlling coccidiosis with ionophores, when consumers are hunting food price relief might be a good time to drop the “no antibiotics” claim, the company might have reasoned.

It is also worth noting that Tyson produces a bigger bird for retail use, meaning a longer time period to keep a bird healthy, according to the Journal story. Smaller chickens destined for fast food sandwiches are smaller and fed for shorter time periods.

Tyson said when it made the “no antibiotics” shift in 2017 that it believed it could market that chicken labeled as such for 20 percent higher prices. But it costs more to raise them that way, there can be some mortality and the company uses probiotics, essential oils and other products as substitutes.

It may be finding that that 20 percent extra margin, isn’t there in this competitive food price environment. And the probiotics and other ration elements have to be paid for.

One other interesting note: the rest of the world doesn’t consider ionophores to be antibiotics, so poultry producers in Europe, for example, have a competitive advantage as they can boost health and efficiency and still market “no antibiotic” chicken.

We’re glad we didn’t have to make this kind of a call. But it will be very interesting to see what consumer reaction will be. Consumer activists will weigh in.

But we’ll be glad to observe from the sidelines and be thankful Tyson is doing something to educate consumers and so-called experts about the difference between ionophores and therapeutic antibiotics. It’s a small step to eventually getting consumers to understand that there are no residue problems in their meat.

*For AFF coverage of study in 2016, “Milestone Antibiotic Research Redirects Resistance Hunt”- Part I, Vol 13, #07, click link below:

AFF Coverage of study, “Milestone Antibiotic Research Redirects Resistance Hunt”- Part (Part II), Vol 13,#08, click link below:

** Published peer reviewed abstract in journal “elife.”

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