Sanderson Farms wants consumers to know the truth about chicken.

On August 1, the Laurel, Mississippi, integrator announced the launch of an advertising campaign taking on the concept that broilers treated with antibiotics are inferior to antibiotic-free birds.

A consumer-facing page on the publicly traded company’s website tackles three myths: chickens raised without antibiotics are safer to eat, broilers are raised in cages and that chickens are fed hormones and steroids.

A video ad produced by the company features two blue collar men calling chicken raised without antibiotics “a marketing gimmick.”

A statement from the company released with the campaign said the intent is to “(expose) marketing gimmicks designed to mislead consumers and sell products at a higher price.”

In the statement, CEO Joe Sanderson Jr. said the company has a responsibility to debunk myths and empower consumers to make informed decisions. The predominant theme of the campaign is chicken is not unsafe, unhealthy or inferior because of antibiotics use.

“[U.S. Food and Drug Administration] regulations require all chicken made available for purchase be free of antibiotic residues,” Sanderson said in the statement. “As long as scientific research indicates that antibiotics are safe and healthy, we’ll continue to make the right decision when it comes to how we raise our chickens for our customers.

“Sanderson Farms’ No. 1 priority continues to be providing our consumers with safe, wholesome, high-quality chicken.”

Sanderson’s position on antimicrobial resistance

Sanderson Farms, the third largest broiler company in the country, routinely defends its use of antibiotics in chicken farming. Two of its closest competitors, Tyson Foods Inc. and Perdue Farms, have prioritized removing antibiotics from their products in recent years. The campaign’s debut comes four months before the Veterinary Feed Directive is set to ramp up regulatory scrutiny of antimicrobials in animal agriculture in the U.S.

Sanderson maintains using antibiotics is socially responsible because it protects the birds' welfare, it makes for a safer product and it reduces the environmental impact of chicken farming. Regulators around the world are pressuring farmers to dial back antibiotic usage over concerns their usage contributes to antimicrobial resistant bacteria, a significant public health risk.

A New York Times article on the announcement quoted Dr. Robert Tauxe, director of the division of food-borne, waterborne and environmental diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as saying the agency’s concern is that bacteria on the meat and poultry are resistant to antibiotics and can cause disease. He said global scientific evidence shows antibiotic use in animal husbandry negatively affects public health.

“There have been a number of well-documented epidemics where animals given antibiotics were carrying disease-causing bacteria that were resistant to those antibiotics that made people very sick,” Tauxe told the paper.

In a statement, Dr. Phil Stayer, corporate veterinarian for Sanderson Farms, said that’s incorrect.

“The truth is, we have not seen any credible scientific research to support the idea that the judicious use of antibiotics in chicken contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance in humans,” Stayer said in a statement.

The company said the antibiotic resistance issue is serious, but “many industry experts agree the issue is related to the overuse and over-prescription of antibiotics in humans.” It said the judicious use of antibiotics is considered acceptable for disease prevention by the National Chicken Council, American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Meat Institute, the American Association of Avian Pathologists and the Federation of Animal Science Societies.

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