Perdue Foods: Chicken Hatcheries Now Antibiotic-Free - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Perdue Foods: Chicken Hatcheries Now Antibiotic-Free

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 SALISBURY, Md. - Perdue Foods announced Wednesday that it has removed all antibiotics from it chicken hatcheries, completing a five-year effort aimed at curbing the unnecessary use of antibiotics. Perdue says it's the latest stage of a 12-year evolution in the company's approach to antibiotic use.

Perdue says it does not use antibiotics for growth promotion in its chicken production, and has not since 2007.

The National Chicken Council said the move makes Perdue the first large U.S. chicken producer to end antibiotic use in all hatcheries regardless of product line.

"By no longer using any antibiotics in our hatcheries or any human antibiotics in feed, we've reached the point where 95 percent of our chickens never receive any human antibiotics, and the remainder receive them only for a few days when prescribed by a veterinarian," said Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, Senior Vice President of Food Safety, Quality and Live Operations for Perdue Foods.

The company does, however, use an animal-only antibiotic to control an intestinal parasite, and will use antibiotics to treat and control illness in sick flocks according to Perdue. Stewart-Brown added that by having no antibiotics in the hatchery, it exceeds the Federal Drug Administration's guidelines for antibiotic use in food animals, as well as the standards of the USDA Organic certification program.

"This very limited use of antibiotics is more restrictive than the new FDA Guidelines announced last December. We have yet to read any proposed legislation that we are not compliant with, and in fact, have been since 2008," said Stewart-Brown.

Perdue, whose Harvestland brand features no-antibiotics-ever products, says the company started the move away from conventional antibiotic use in 2002, in response to growing consumer concern.

"This is not something that you simply turn a switch to implement," said Dr. Stewart-Brown. "Moving away from the conventional use of antibiotics in animal agriculture means more than taking human antibiotics out of your programs. You have to develop programs from breeder operations, through the hatchery and feed mill and onto the farm that are sustainable without that use. It takes a lot more effort with more stringent standards, but we believe this is what consumers expect from Perdue."

In 2005, Perdue says it phased out the use of specific medically important antibiotics in its feeds, four years before the FDA banned the use of these antibiotics in animal agriculture. By 2007, the company says it had successfully removed all human antibiotics from its feed. Perdue says the final step in its journey toward responsible antibiotics use was eliminating their use in the hatchery, a process that began in 2009 and culminated this summer.

A public health advocacy group, Keeping Antibiotics Working (KAW), says Perdue's announcement is an important step in the right direction.

"The action in the hatcheries is particularly important as antibiotic use there has been clearly linked to resistance in the treated birds and to resistance in sick humans," KAW said in a statement.

KAW says, one way that Perdue can improve its policy even further is by being transparent about the actual amount of drugs being provided to its birds going forth.

"We strongly encourage Perdue to publicly report on the amount and type of antibiotics used in its poultry as a concrete measure of the impact of the policy," writes KAW. "We also strongly encourage other companies to adopt a similar policy to reduce antibiotic use on their farms."

Perdue Farms is the fourth-largest U.S. producer of ready-to-cook chicken after Tyson Foods Inc, Pilgrim's Pride Corp and Sanderson Farms Inc, according to the National Chicken Council.
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