• Tyson Foods product

Tyson Foods product

The nation's biggest seller of chicken, Tyson Foods, announced that by September 2017 it will phase out all human antibiotics from its fowl flocks.

The term "medically important" (MI) refers to antibiotics that people take. Livestock products have also used the drugs to treat diseases, and encourage growth in farm animals.

Like Us on Facebook

Donnie Smith, Tyson's CEO, said that since 2011 the company has reduced its MI antibiotics in broiler chickens by over 80 percent. It could "shoot for zero" but will still use the antibiotics for very sick chickens.  

Tyson makes its announcement as the public becomes increasingly concerned about superbugs in humans that are antibiotic-resistant.  When MI antibiotics are used more in farm animals bacteria become resistant to them faster and turn into superbugs, according to NPR.

This is causing more consumers and fast food chains to choose meat from antibiotic-free animals. For example, last September Perdue Foods announced that its chicken population was 95 percent free of MI antibiotics. Then in March McDonald's, one of Tyson's customers, announced that it would serve antibiotic-free chickens, according to Chicago Tribune.

Sales of antibiotic-free chicken rose 25 percent last year.  That represents around 11 percent of total chicken sales.

Avinash Kar, lawyer at the National Resources Defense Council, says that companies are "making commitments" about ending their use of MI antibiotics. However, the amount of the reduction in the next few years is an "uncertain thing."

Tyson said that it wants to phrase out MI antibiotics in all of its beef, pork, and turkey products also. Bob Martin of John Hopkins' School of Public Health says that Tyson is taking a "big step."