Playing catch up with competitors, the nation's largest poultry producer, Tyson Foods (TSN), says it's working to rid its U.S. broiler flocks of human antibiotics, and hopes to accomplish that goal by the end of September 2017.
"Antibiotic resistant infections are a global health concern," Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, said Tuesday in a release announcing the move.
The increase of humans getting infected with superbugs resistant to antibiotics has been partially pinned on the widespread use of drugs in farm animals.
In March, McDonald's (MCD) said its menu would include chicken not raised with antibiotics important to human medicine.
Perdue Foods, which last September said 95 percent of its chickens were raised without antibiotics, said it was pleased that others were following its lead in addressing consumer concerns.
"Tyson's announcement says that two-and-a-half years from now they will be where we've been for quite some time," Julie DeYoung, a Perdue spokeswoman emailed.
But in reality, Tyson and Perdue's progress in ridding their poultry of human antibiotics were likely running near even, given "only a very small percentage of our broiler chicken flocks currently receive human antibiotics. It would be in the mid-single digits," Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesman said.
Tyson Foods said it has already halted all antibiotic use in its 35 broiler hatcheries and requires a veterinary prescription for antibiotics on broiler farms, with use of human antibiotics to treat broiler chickens down more than 80 percent since 2011.
Given the company's progress, Tyson believes "it's realistic to shoot for zero by the end of our 2017 fiscal year," Smith said. "But we won't jeopardize animal well-being just to get there. We'll use the best available treatments to keep our chickens healthy, under veterinary supervision."
Tyson also said it would start looking at ways of cutting its use of human antibiotics on cattle, hog and turkey farms.
Many bacterial infections in the U.S. and throughout the world are becoming resistant to antibiotics and it is among the pressing public health problems, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which calls the smart use of antibiotics the "key to controlling the spread of resistance."