No Antibiotics EVER
With growing concern about the use of antibiotics in meat and poultry, and the recent and increasingly frequent announcements from retailers and integrators like restaurants and fast food chains, consumers should be more informed than ever. In reality, many of these statements and the practices behind them leave much for interpretation about what actually occurs on the farm. Tecumseh Farms has been leading the conversation about raising chickens humanely and responsibly for decades with transparency that is unrivaled across the industry and a commitment to raising birds that have never been treated with antibiotics—ever. Here we break down some of the jargon for consumers seeking products that truly align with both their preferences and their values.
Between The Lines
Many of the current trends toward eliminating antibiotics only involve the prohibition of those varieties that can also be used to treat sickness in humans. Companies are quick to announce their commitment to eliminating the use of “medically important” antibiotics or those “used to treat human illness,” but seem to leave out that other antibiotic treatments are still in regular use. Other announcements include commitments to “judicious use” and promises to only treat animals that are ill “or at risk”. In reality, these statements are so ambiguous that they allow companies to promote the idea that they are eliminating antibiotics without actually making material changes to their procedures or operations.
It should be noted that hormones have been largely left unmentioned in this article because their use has been illegal in chicken production in the U.S. since the 1950s. Antibiotics, however, are permitted and have been relied on by large-scale producers for decades.
Still, the risks remain, even as companies begin to focus on antibiotics used to treat animals: “Overuse of antibiotics is thought to encourage the evolution of bacteria strains, which makes them more resistant to antibiotics,” explains Bill Schellpeper, vice president of live operations at Smart Chicken. “Because the antibiotics used in animals are similar to those used to treat humans, the aforementioned evolution could cause serious threats to public health.”
No Antibiotics Ever
Even labels can be a bit confusing, especially as they evolve with consumer preferences and industry practices. Unfortunately, changes in terminology have been driven by some companies cutting corners and exploiting interpretations. For example, to use the phrase antibiotic-free on a label, the USDA only requires that the producer abide by a withdrawal or waiting period meant to ensure that antibiotic residues are no longer present in the meat. Therefore, chicken can actually have the words antibiotic-free on the label even if the chickens were administered antibiotics at some point in their lives. The phrase raised without antibiotics was introduced to draw a distinction, assuring consumers that chickens labeled raised without antibiotics were never given antibiotics in the first place. Over time, some companies that loaded up on antibiotics before birth—injecting them into eggs, for example—started claiming their products were raised without antibiotics. The most comprehensive term, and the one retailers are starting to require and consumers are becoming more and more familiar with is no antibiotics ever. This claim is enforced by the USDA as a program subject to process verification and audit, ensuring that antibiotics have not been used in caring for or processing the final product at any point in time.
Smart Chicken® has never changed its position on antibiotics; the company does not administer antibiotics to chickens that become Smart Chicken and never has. Antibiotics are simply not part of our equation for producing wholesome, high-quality chicken and, in line with that philosophy, all Smart Chicken products are USDA Process Verified no
Raising The Standards Of Care
Antibiotics are used by many commercial chicken producers to make cramped living conditions possible; the chickens live in close quarters and become prone to infections that quickly spread. Antibiotics also mitigate the risks of low-quality feed sources and aggressive lighting programs that exhaust the animals and leave them susceptible to illness. As is the case in humans, poor nutrition, increased stress, and lack of sleep weaken the immune system. Large, ever-increasing doses of antibiotics are often mixed into feed or water as a preventative measure, and are effectively administered before the birds even become sick to compensate for poor care standards. The reality is that well-cared-for chickens rarely become sick and don’t require blanket doses of antibiotics to remain healthy, which is why all Smart Chicken products—including both the veg-fed and organic lines—are not administered antibiotics at any point in their lives.
“Tecumseh Poultry recognized early on that chickens do not need sub-therapeutic antibiotics if they are given low-density, clean, sanitary living conditions,” explains Bill. “And, the risks of administering antibiotics outweighed any reward the company could fathom,” he adds. As a result, Tecumseh Farms can proudly state that all Smart Chicken products have never been administered antibiotics, ever, with no misleading qualifiers and no loopholes.
In the rare event that a Tecumseh Farms chicken does become ill and requires antibiotics, it is treated as needed, but these chickens are never processed and packaged as Smart Chicken. Our chickens are also fed carefully researched, customized diets that do not contain animal by-products or arsenic. They are given plenty of space to engage in natural behaviors, such as dust bathing, and our organic birds are given access to the outdoors—all of which contribute to the growth of happy and healthy birds.
Leading The Way
Providing a truly antibiotic-free option for consumers who value freshness, unmatched quality, and peace of mind is as important today as it was in the very beginning. Tecumseh Farms will continue to do its part to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance and serve our customers with authenticity and transparency.