US-based agribusiness and food giant Cargill has confirmed it has stopped using the antibiotic gentamicin in its turkey business – and has launched an antibiotic-free Honest Turkey product line.

Cargill said it ended the use of gentamicin – an antibiotic used in both human and animal healthcare – on 1 August for disease prevention in turkeys harvested for its two largest brands, Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms. The company said turkey products covered by the decision will be available in the marketplace by 1 January.

The move is in line with a commitment made by the company in 2014.

Cargill said it is expanding its antibiotic-free turkey products through the Honest Turkey line, where “products will be differentiated from conventional turkey offerings because they come from turkeys that are never treated with antibiotics”.

Jan Hood, head of marketing for Cargill’s turkey business, said: “Eliminating antibiotic use for disease prevention purposes is the next logical step after ending the use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, which we began in 2014. Based on consumer research and their desire for transparency in food production, we developed the Honest Turkey product line, which communicates the turkeys are raised without antibiotics.” 

However, the company said turkeys will continue to receive antibiotics for control and treatment of disease.

Tim Maupin, Cargill’s head of turkey agriculture operations, said: “To successfully meet the increasing demand from our customers for antibiotic-free turkey, we start with a larger number of birds than required knowing a percentage may become ill, require antibiotics and be removed from our antibiotic-free turkey programme. “We have an obligation to treat turkeys that get sick because we want healthy birds and it’s the right thing to do.”

John Niemann, president of the company’s Wichita-based turkey business, insisted Cargill still believes “the judicious use of antibiotics in animal agriculture helps assure a safe food supply”. Newman said: “We remain committed to exploring fact-based technologies as alternatives to antibiotics, and to the reduced use of shared-class antibiotics – those used for human and animal health – when the efficacy of a given technology has been proven effective and economical.” 

In March, Cargill announced a 20% reduction in shared-class antibiotics used at four beef cattle feed yards owned by the company, as well as five additional feed yards owned by alliance partners that provide Cargill with cattle.