Sanderson defends antibiotics in animal production

by Keith Nunes
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Joe Sanderson says his company will not cease using antibiotics in its poultry growing operations.

NEW YORK — Count Joe Sanderson Jr., chairman and CEO of the poultry processor Sanderson Farms, as being on the opposite side of the current movement by such chicken processors as Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms to shift away from the use of antibiotics in poultry production.

“This is not something that we take lightly,” he said May 12 during a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Global Staples Forum. “And frankly, after doing our homework, we do not plan to withdraw antibiotics from our program, and there are three main reasons.”

Reason No. 1, Sanderson said, is animal welfare.

“We feel like we need to take care of the animals in our care,” he said. “There’s one thing that you cannot take care of if you don’t use antibiotics and that is enteritis in the chicken.”

Enteritis is a gut condition that may make chickens sick or even kill them. Sanderson said there is nothing currently available or coming in the future to address the condition and he couldn’t imagine “having a diagnosis, knowing what’s wrong with them and not taking care of them.”

“Particularly when there’s no evidence whatsoever that using these antibiotics really does cause antibiotic resistant bacteria,” he said. “There’s no evidence. And even the people that have made the announcements that they were going to stop using antibiotics say there’s no evidence that this causes antibiotic resistant bacteria.”

Second, Sanderson said ceasing the use of antibiotics does not fit with his company’s programs focused on sustainability and environmental responsibility.

“It’s going to take more chicken houses, more electricity, more water, more acres of corn, and more acres of soybeans,” he said. “So you’re going to have to grow these chickens longer and use all that to achieve the same market weight.”

Finally, Sanderson said ceasing the use of antibiotics would have an effect on his company’s food safety efforts.

“We have all been busting our behinds to reduce the microbiology loads, the microorganism loads, on these chickens coming to the plants,” he said. “And everybody knows what happened in Europe when they took antibiotics away. All those loads went up on the chicken.

“So you’re talking food safety. You take antibiotics out, and you’re going to have more Campylobacter, more Salmonella, and all that coming into your plant.”

Echoing his earlier point, Sanderson emphasized his company’s goal is to “take care of the chicken.”

“And it’s not that I don’t feel responsible to the consumer or to my customers who all want us to have four sections of antibiotic-free (chicken) for marketing purposes,” he said. “But we’re not going to do it. If there’s a way in the future, we’ll do the right thing. But I’m going to take care of the chicken. I’m going to take care of the environment. And we’re going to take care of food safety.”

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