Shareholders in the poultry processor reject policy to phase out medically important antibiotics.

LAUREL, Miss. – A proposal to adopt a companywide policy that would phase out the use of medically important antibiotics failed a shareholders’ vote. The Sanderson Farms board recommended shareholders vote against the proposal.

As You Sow, which promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, submitted the proposal for a vote on behalf of Gun Denhart Living Trust and other investors.

In a regulatory filing, As You Sow argued that Sanderson Farms risked losing market share to companies with stronger policies governing antibiotics.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about injudicious antibiotic use and restaurants are taking action,” the group said in the filing. “McDonald’s recently achieved its commitment to source chicken raised without medically important antibiotics in the US and Wendy’s will make this transition by 2017. Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill prohibit most antibiotic use in their livestock supply chains.

“A strong antibiotics policy will prepare Sanderson Farms to comply more effectively with a shifting federal regulatory landscape,” the group said. “Meat producers will have to comply with new federal guidelines that effectively limit the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion by the end of 2016. The FDA is also expected to address preventive uses of antibiotics.”

In a letter to shareholders, Sanderson Farms emphasized the company’s commitment to finding alternative methods of controlling avian disease and reducing the use of antibiotics, which include working with drug companies to phase out medically important antibiotics when alternatives become available.

“We are also participating in the collection and analysis of data on antibiotic usage on broiler farms by independent third parties, who will publicly report the data and trends in usage,” the letter stated. “Our position enjoys broad support, particularly in the scientific and veterinarian communities. Both the American Association of Avian Pathologists and the American Veterinary Medical Association, together with many other scientific organizations and individuals, support the Company’s practices. In addition, our market research indicates both our customers and consumers, who value choice in the meat counter, overwhelmingly support our position.

“In summary, we agree that antibiotics should be used responsibly and judiciously both in humans and in animals, whether they are pets or livestock, in order to minimize the risk of antibiotic resistance,” the company said. “Our judicious use of these drugs in a responsible manner is consistent with our moral obligation to provide safe food products, treat animals humanely and conserve natural resources.”