US poultry integrator Sanderson Farms has said it will not phase out antibiotics from its farms, taking a position that runs contrary to many other similar companies in the USA.
It has embarked on a charm offensive aimed at dispelling what it calls “marketing myths” that it says other businesses propagate, with a series of short videos explaining its position.
The campaign centres on the responsible use of antibiotics in farming, but a website also covers cages, hormones and steroid use.
Sanderson Farms said that after “deliberate and careful consideration” it would not withdraw antibiotics from its production.
There were three primary reasons, according to the company.
The first was animal welfare and the need to manage enteritis and other gut conditions when birds became ill.
The second was that birds suffering from illness would not perform well, becoming less efficient feed converters, which would not meet Sanderson Farms’ sustainability efforts.
Finally, it said that not using antibiotics could hamper food safety.
A statement said: “All three of these obligations can be better met through the responsible use of FDA-approved antibiotics when recommended by our veterinarians.
“We are committed to using antibiotics responsibly, and only when necessary.
“We are also committed to finding and using alternatives when they become available.
“In addition, should credible, scientific data become available that supports the notion that antibiotics use in farm animals contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans, we will most certainly re-evaluate our position.”
US poultry farmers have been placed under immense pressure from lobby groups and consumers over intensive farming methods.
As a result, most food businesses have pledged to phase out keeping hens in cages, while similar commitments have been made over ending the use of antibiotics.
Hundreds of companies now specify “antibiotic-free” chicken for their supply chains. Restaurant chain Wendy’s was the latest, suggesting all “critically important” drugs would be withdrawn from production animals by 2017.