Tyson Ends Zero Antibiotics Promise For Some Chicken Products

On July 2, 2023, it was reported that Tyson Foods has changed its tack, and the poultry producer will once again use certain antibiotics for its chicken products. This move will be reflected in the removal of the "no antibiotics ever" label from the affected foods.

In 2017, the company announced that its flagship Tyson-branded fresh and frozen chicken wings, breasts, and nuggets would be produced using "no antibiotics ever." This decision was a response to pressure from consumer health advocates who were concerned about the impacts on human health from the widespread use of antibiotics on farms. For a time, Tyson was the largest antibiotic-free poultry supplier in the world.

The company's decision to resume using some antibiotics in its chicken production comes as Tyson grapples with economic pressures that have resulted in two plant closures as well as layoffs of some corporate leadership roles.

Tyson Foods says its decision to use antibiotics is based on sound science

The category of antibiotics Tyson plans to use are called ionophores, and they're used to treat a poultry disease called coccidiosis, which can cause diarrhea that reduces poultry production and can sometimes be life-threatening for affected birds. Ionophores aren't typically used to treat humans, which has led the FDA to conclude the antibiotics don't pose a threat to human health and are safe for use in treating sick animals.

In fact, ionophores aren't even considered antibiotics in some parts of the world, including Europe, meaning that U.S.-based poultry producers don't exactly have a level playing field when determining which products can carry "no antibiotics ever" statements. Though Tyson tells The Wall Street Journal, "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," there's no absolute consensus on the role ionophores may play in the development of antimicrobial resistance.

What is clear is that raising poultry without antibiotics is more expensive, raising costs for producers and resulting in higher prices for consumers. Tom Tabler, poultry specialist at the University of Tennessee, says companies like Tyson Foods are now examining whether the higher cost of antibiotic poultry production is a worthwhile investment.