Removing Antibiotics is Something to Squawk About

Ever wondered why the frozen chicken breasts you purchase are so much bigger than any chicken you’ve seen? Most chicken in this country get plumped up with antibiotics so farmers can make more money. A large-scale change is coming to the chicken industry.

Maryland-based Perdue Farms has come out with new chicken products labeled “No Antibiotics Ever”. Perdue sells in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Milwaukee markets. For the past year, Perdue has been attempting to rid its birds of antibiotics. Antibiotics have been used for decades to ward off sickness and fatten up birds. Unfortunately, these same antibiotics can make humans more vulnerable to bacteria. When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, they can develop resistance passed along to other bacteria.

Other chicken companies such as Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride have also set goals for reducing antibiotic use, and half of the industry has eliminated use completely. Perdue states that prices will not increase in this shift, although in general, chicken sold as “no antibiotics ever” averages $4.99/pound, while conventionally raised chicken is $1.99/pound. Organic chicken, however, is still the most expensive (over $1.65 more/pound) because those birds must have year-round access to the outdoors.

Perdue first started improving the quality of the birds in 2002 after clashing with animal welfare groups and farmers. In 2006, they stopped using antibiotics for promoting growth, and recently removed them from the hatcheries, now feeding the chicken an all-vegetarian diet. In 2011, Perdue acquired an organic chicken supplier who taught them new ways of raising birds. Perdue announced a new animal welfare plan in 2014, increasing natural sunlight and providing more “enrichment” structures in chicken houses. The quality of chicks now is much better because of the improvements. Perdue still treats their sick birds with antibiotics, but that is only about 5% of production, and those birds are sold separately under other brands.

Removing antibiotics from chicken has been a catalyst to improving the living conditions of other farm animals. The chicken industry is watching to see how Perdue continues changing and how consumers respond to the change. For those who don’t want antibiotics in their meat but can’t afford organic chicken, this is an affordable option.
Trotter, Greg. “How one chicken company is kicking the antibiotic habit.” Business. Chicago Tribune, 17 Oct 2016. Web. 18 Oct 2016.

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