The Checkout

USDA Rescinds "Raised without Antibiotics" Label from Tyson Chicken

Annys Shin

I bring you an update on the Tyson Foods "raised without antibiotics" labeling case.

The back story, briefly, is that Tyson was selling chicken under the label "raised without antibiotics." The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat and poultry, signed off on the use of the label. Tyson's competitors, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms, cried foul (excuse my word choice) and challenged Tyson's use of the label in court and with the USDA. A federal judge in Baltimore ruled last month that Tyson had to stop using the claim in its advertising.

That brings us to this week. Tyson on Monday said it would voluntarily stop using the label until the standards for using the label are a little clearer. Tyson is referring to the fact that USDA considers the chicken feed additive ionophores antibiotics while the Food and Drug Administration does not, at least not as a factor in creating drug resistance in people, which is the scenario public health experts fear is developing because of overused antibiotics in food animals.

Turns out Tyson doesn't have much of a choice. The news on Tuesday came from USDA, which announced it was formally rescinding use of the label based on new information it received about Tyson's practices. I'll quote from the statement of Undersecretary of Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond:

"FSIS found that they routinely used the antibiotic Gentamicin to prevent illness and death in chicks.Because of this information, FSIS notified Tyson Foods, Inc. that the company must stop using the qualified raised without antibiotics labels, or any variation of a "Raised without antibiotics" claim by June 18."

FSIS told the company on May 23 that it would be reviewing its policies on "raised without antibiotics" labeling.

My question is: will you even notice? Do you buy based on whether a piece of chicken has antibiotics in it? Or do you buy based on the brand, the taste, and/or the price?

UPDATE on the UPDATE: Amanda Eamich, the spokeswoman for the Food Safety and Inspection Service of USDA informs me that FDA and USDA do agree that ionophores are antibiotics. The FDA didn't put it as explicity as USDA but there was no disagreeement.A'ight?

By Annys Shin |  June 4, 2008; 7:08 AM ET Annys Shin
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Once a company gets past a certain size, I don't believe them at all. Case in point (no pun intended): Budweiser is now selling "craft" brews, e.g. Shock Top now and some Winter-Cask thing last winter. Looks to be craft brews, but crack one open and you find it's nothing but flavored Bud.

Posted by: Ollabelle | June 4, 2008 10:07 AM

Look, when you say "Raised without antibiotics" and then try to claim that you actually do use antibiotics, but not certain "kinds" of antibiotics, you are a liar. No wiggle room or technicalities. Liar.

Posted by: M Street | June 4, 2008 11:20 AM

From an individual that has been in the poultry industry from many years and has worked for one of these companys... the entire issue is that even if Tyson does not use antibiotics... neither do any other large poultry companys. But by Tyson placing the label "Raised without antibiotics" they are trying to imply that everyone else does use antibiotics. It is the same issue they have been doing for years... they claim that Tyson chicken is "Hormone Free"... and they truth is that it is completely ILLEGAL to use hormones in chickens.... and no other company does it. Tyson is trying to make the comsumer believe that they are the good guys and that their competitors are pumping their chickens full of hormones and antibiotics. Well the truth is that the poultry industry is very very regulated and that one companies chickens are really NO BETTER than the next. They are all basically raised and processed exactly the same. It all comes down to price and brand loyalty in the end. But personally... I will not buy Tyson chicken because of their constant slander and unethical use of phrases such as "Antibiotic and Hormone Free"!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 4, 2008 12:08 PM

Now why do they feed chickens antibiotics at all? Because they are raised jammed together in stressful, disease promoting conditions. That is why my family eats chickens we raise and butcher ourselves.

Posted by: justsalt | June 4, 2008 4:05 PM

I would buy chicken based on how it's raised and it would have to be organic. But I am no longer a meat eater, because it's not sustainable. It shouldn't come down to the brand as much as it should be about supporting food companies with good ethics. And,yes,organic chicken does taste better. Locally raised,organic chicken tastes even better!

Posted by: Angela | June 4, 2008 5:23 PM

Yes, organic chicken tastes much better than synthetic. Besides, have you ever tried to broil a rubber chicken?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 5, 2008 10:10 AM

Yes, the contents of a product make a difference in my buying choices. Knowing what I do about the conditions industrial chicken is raised in, I was suspicious about Tyson's claims all along. And assuming they actually could get a chick(en) to live the 6-8 weeks until slaughter in that environment, then I would expect the meat to carry a near toxic load of Salmonella, E coli, or other such awful things. We also raise and process our own chicken in a humane, healthy (and TRULY antibiotic free)way in part to get away from all the unknowns in factory food. Did you realize that the EU has been fighting import of our "entrail soaked, chlorine washed" chicken and hormone-injected beef?

Posted by: Laura | June 6, 2008 8:44 PM

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