The changes Tyson Foods is set to make to how it uses antibiotics in its US supply chain have attracted criticism.
Tyson is reintroducing some antibiotics into its chicken supply chain and removing the “no antibiotics ever” label it has used on its namesake chicken products.
The US meat giant is to start using antibiotics deemed not important to human medicine and plans to complete the transition by the end of the year.
A Tyson spokesperson said the company bases “our decisions on sound science” and its selection of the antibiotics it will use follows a standard recognised by the US Department of Agriculture – “no antibiotics important to human medicine”.
The use of antibiotics in food supply chains has come under scrutiny in recent years amid fears about antimicrobial resistance.
In April 2015, Tyson announced it would eliminate the use of human antibiotics in its US broiler chicken flock by the end of September 2017.
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Steve Roach, safe and healthy food programme director at US campaign group Keep Antibiotics Working, labelled Tyson’s decision to re-start the use of some antibiotics “a bad move”.
Roach said Keep Antibiotics Working had focused on “medically important antibiotics” in its campaigning to reduce the over-use of the drugs but added: “There is growing evidence that the use of the non-medically important antibiotics also contributes to the human health problem of antibiotic resistance. Multiple studies have shown that using ionophores, the non-medically important antibiotics that Tyson will now be using, can select for resistance to drugs that are used in human medicine even if these drugs themselves are not used.
“These drugs are used in whole herds or flocks at a time with limited restrictions so, even if the risk for a single dose is less than for a medically important drug, they are used much more frequently in many animals at a time often for long durations.”
In a statement confirming the move, the Tyson spokesperson said the change “continues to support our approach to responsible stewardship and the decision was made with the best interest of people and animals in mind”.
The spokesperson added: At Tyson Foods, we base our decisions on sound science and an evolving understanding of the best practices impacting our customers, consumers and the animals in our care.
“Based on current science, Tyson branded products are transitioning to No Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine (NAIHM) which is expected to be complete by the end of the calendar year. While roughly half of the industry uses some form of antibiotic in producing chicken, NAIHM is a heightened standard that has been recognised by the USDA for decades and qualified through programme documentation showing no antibiotics important to human health have been used.”