NEW YORK TIMESBusiness Day
Chick-fil-A Commits to Stop Sales of Poultry Raised With Antibiotics
By STEPHANIE STROMFEB. 11, 2014
Chick-fil-A said on Tuesday that within five years it would no longer sell products containing meat from chickens raised with antibiotics.
The company said consumer demand was responsible for the change. “We have an ongoing process of constantly monitoring what our consumers prefer in terms of health and nutrition and what’s in our food, and this issue surfaced as the No. 1 issue for our customers,” said Tim Tassopoulos, executive vice president for operations at Chick-fil-A.
A growing number of restaurant chains, including Chipotle and Panera Bread, have made commitments to serve meat only from animals raised without antibiotics, and consumers have responded enthusiastically.
The trend exemplified what Daymon Worldwide, a consulting firm that works with the food industry and others, has identified as “free-from,” a quest among consumers for pure and simple products, free of preservatives, highly processed ingredients and anything artificial.
Subway announced last week that it would eliminate azodicarbonamide, a chemical that commercial bakers use to increase the strength and pliancy of dough, but, as noted by the consumer crusader Vani Hari, is also used for the same purposes in yoga mats and shoe soles.
And on Tuesday, Kraft said it was taking sorbic acid, an artificial preservative that had come under attack by consumers, out of some individually wrapped cheese slices.
Those were among dozens of product changes announced by major food companies in the last year. “All of this is makes for great P.R., but it doesn’t mean the products are necessarily any more nutritious,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer who writes the blog eatdrinkpolitics.com
Ms. Simon said that Chick-fil-A’s decision was different because antibiotic resistance is such an important issue. “This doesn’t make fried chicken nuggets good for you, but given the public health crisis caused by the practice of giving animals antibiotics, I think this is an important decision,” she said.
Concern is growing among public health officials about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Last fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the first time quantified the toll such resistance is taking, estimating that at least two million Americans fall ill and at least 23,000 die from it each year.
The C.D.C. report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” Then in December, the Food and Drug Administration announced a plan to curtail the use of antibiotics in animals.
Meat producers use antibiotics to prevent sickness in animals that are raised in close quarters in industrial farming operations. Chickens are treated, for example, with a small dose of gentamicin while still in ovo in an effort to prevent infection through a tiny hole made when the egg is administered a drug that prevents Marek’s disease and infectious bursal disease, highly infectious viral diseases that can wipe out flocks.
Antibiotics also are incorporated into feed commonly used by large producers to help animals grow faster and use feed more efficiently.
But producers are aware of the consumer demand for antibiotic-free meat. Bell & Evans, a smaller producer, has worked with its feed supplier to incorporate oregano into the kibble it feeds its chickens to act as a replacement for antibiotics, and Tyson last year started a line of chicken marketed under the label NatureRaised Farm, which is raised cage-free on a vegetarian diet without antibiotics.
Chick-fil-A already uses chicken breasts free from fillers, additives and steroids.
Rob Dugas, vice president for supply chain management at Chick-fil-A, said the shift would take time because it required changes by producers from the hatchery to the processing plant. “For instance, any flock treated with antibiotics today is aggregated into the larger production facility,” Mr. Dugas said. “For us, birds will have to be segregated all the way down to the egg production.”
Chick-fil-A executives said they could not say yet whether the changes would result in a price increase for consumers. Typically, antibiotic-free chicken is more expensive than traditionally processed poultry.
“We do know that it has a potential cost ramification, both to us and to our customers,” Mr. Tassopoulos said. “We are going to do everything we can to minimize the impact on the price of our products, and the growing interest in antibiotic-free meat may help with that by increasing