Tyson Foods Inc. plans to adopt a new standard governing antibiotics use in poultry that is aimed at schools, hospitals and other institutions.
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The standard, developed by School Food FOCUS and Pew Charitable Trusts, limits antibiotic use on poultry farms to cases where it is needed to control and treat disease, which will help reduce the drugs' overall use and potentially slow development of dangerous bacteria that can resist antibiotics, the groups said.
The Springdale, Ark. meat company's move to certify one of its chicken plants under the new standard comes as Tyson works toward a similar goal for its overall poultry operations. Tyson last month announced plans to largely eliminate by September 2017 all antibiotics used to treat illness in humans from the company's poultry supply, though some human-use drugs may still be used to treat animals that get sick.
The groups backing the new certification see it as another way to encourage the meat industry to minimize use of the drugs in animal production, which for decades fed antibiotics to poultry and livestock to cure maladies, prevent the spread of disease and help animals gain weight more quickly.
"This is a market-driven, grass roots solution to a critical public health challenge, and demonstrates the leadership school districts can exert as institutional buyers," said Kathy Lawrence, director of strategic development at School Food FOCUS, a New York-based advocacy group that promotes health and sustainability in school meals.
Tyson, the top U.S. meat processor by sales, is the first company to adopt the certification after its New Holland, Penn. poultry complex was verified as compliant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will monitor food makers' adherence to the standard. School Food FOCUS and Pew developed the certification in consultation with the National Procurement Initiative, a group of 15 school districts that together buy about $36 million worth of chicken a year and work together to shift supply chains toward food that the group sees as healthier and more sustainably produced.
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Tyson's move expands on efforts by meat companies and restaurants to respond to growing public concern over drug-resistant bacteria. McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant chain by sales, and other restaurant chains have unveiled plans to scale back antibiotics use in their own poultry supplies.
Pew and other consumer-health groups have long warned that widespread use of antibiotics to fend off illness among farm animals and hasten weight gain have contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs, along with heavy use of antibiotics in human medicine. Makers of animal drugs have agreed to stop marketing them for weight-gain purposes.
The new Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use standard will still allow for the use of some medically important antibiotics, mostly for treating animals that already are sick, but also if a veterinarian believes there to be a high risk of illness in a particular flock, according to Pew. If such illnesses persist the producer needs to develop a written plan to address the problem.