SPRINGDALE, Ark. – Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods says the April 28 announcement of its plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from its broiler chickens by 2017, has nothing to do with similar initiatives announced by its customers or its competitors and everything to do with addressing a global concern without compromising animal well-being.
During a conference call with the media, Smith spent almost as much time discussing what the program is not as he did detailing what the intentions and goals are. The announcement was not made to gain any marketing or competitive advantage, according to Smith and it does not imply that animals in need will not be treated with antibiotics when necessary.
As for the September 2017 deadline Smith acknowledged last month’s announcement by McDonald’s Corp. to eliminate antibiotics from its supply chain within two years, but dismissed the notion that Tyson’s similarly timed goal was to appease the fast-food giant. Earlier this month, Pilgrim's Pride Corp., a unit of JBS SA, announced plans to eliminate antibiotics from 25 percent of its poultry production by the end of 2018.
“This is not a marketing campaign,” said Smith, adding: “We’re not doing this as a labeling approach.”
“We think it is the right thing to do and it’s the most responsible way to balance this global health concern about antibiotic resistance with animal well-being,” he said.
Tyson said in its press release issued earlier in the day that the announcement is part of an initiative that builds on a 2011 campaign that eliminated the use of antibiotics in the company’s 35 hatcheries.
Progress related to the most recent program will become a part of Tyson’s Annual Sustainability Reports, beginning in 2015, although the parameters for how the progress will be reported has not yet been determined.
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“We’ve already been making progress,” he said, referencing the move to stop using antibiotics at the company’s hatcheries, while reducing the use of human antibiotics to treat broilers by more than 80 percent since 2011. In lieu of antibiotics, some alternative treatments, including the use of botanicals, prebiotics and probiotics have shown promise.
Smith also pointed out that current antibiotic use in Tyson chickens is not prevalent, estimating it to be in the mid-single-digit percentage throughout its entire broiler flock. The drugs are used currently only to prevent or treat disease; are prescribed by veterinarians; and are not growth promoting. And this approach is part of the company’s commitment to animal welfare.
“But we own those chickens,” Smith said, so the company is able to monitor the frequency and amount of antibiotics administered.
However, he added, “Since we’re more than a chicken company, our efforts involve more than chicken.”
To that end, working groups have been formed to meet with cattle, hog and turkey suppliers to develop a plan to reduce the use of human antibiotics in the production of those animals. However, unlike Tyson’s chickens, which are company-owned and production practices are company controlled, its cattle, hogs and turkeys are owned by individual producers. Due to this arrangement, Smith admitted the amount of antibiotics used in non-chicken species supplied to Tyson is unknown. Therefore, the timeline for reducing antibiotics among the other species has not been determined as the company’s working groups plan to collaborate with producers and other stakeholders in the supply chain this summer to develop a solution and establish goals.