In defense of antibiotics in animal production

by Keith Nunes
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Sanderson Farms c.e.o. says his company will not cease using antibiotics in its poultry growing operations.

NEW YORK — Count Joe Sanderson Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of the poultry processor Sanderson Farms, as being on the opposite side of the current movement by such chicken processors as Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms to shift away from the use of antibiotics in poultry production.

“This is not something that we take lightly,” he said May 12 during a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Global Staples Forum. “And frankly, after doing our homework, we do not plan to withdraw antibiotics from our program, and there are three main reasons.”

Reason No. 1, Mr. Sanderson said, is animal welfare.

“We feel like we need to take care of the animals in our care,” he said. “There’s one thing that you cannot take care of if you don’t use antibiotics and that is enteritis in the chicken.”

Enteritis is a gut condition that may make chickens sick or even kill them. Mr. Sanderson said there is nothing currently available or coming in the future to address the condition and he couldn’t imagine “having a diagnosis, knowing what’s wrong with them and not taking care of them.”

“Particularly when there’s no evidence whatsoever that using these antibiotics really does cause antibiotic resistant bacteria,” he said. “There’s no evidence. And even the people that have made the announcements that they were going to stop using antibiotics say there’s no evidence that this causes antibiotic resistant bacteria.”

Second, Mr. Sanderson said ceasing the use of antibiotics does not fit with his company’s programs focused on sustainability and environmental responsibility.

“It’s going to take more chicken houses, more electricity, more water, more acres of corn, and more acres of soybeans,” he said. “So you’re going to have to grow these chickens longer and use all that to achieve the same market weight.”

Finally, Mr. Sanderson said ceasing the use of antibiotics would have an effect on his company’s food safety efforts.

“We have all been busting our behinds to reduce the microbiology loads, the microorganism loads, on these chickens coming to the plants,” he said. “And everybody knows what happened in Europe when they took antibiotics away. All those loads went up on the chicken.

“So you’re talking food safety. You take antibiotics out, and you’re going to have more campylobacter, more salmonella, and all that coming into your plant.”

Echoing his earlier point, Mr. Sanderson emphasized his company’s goal is to “take care of the chicken.”

“And it’s not that I don’t feel responsible to the consumer or to my customers who all want us to have four sections of antibiotic-free (chicken) for marketing purposes,” he said. “But we’re not going to do it. If there’s a way in the future, we’ll do the right thing. But I’m going to take care of the chicken. I’m going to take care of the environment. And we’re going to take care of food safety.”
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By H N 11/20/2015 3:47:27 PM
Funny that he mentions corn and soybeans, I did not know that chickens were meant to eat that kind of food. Not a very reliable source- sorry.

By Lorraine Boyd 7/12/2015 1:05:08 PM
Exposure to antibiotics increases resistant. That's why just throwing antibiotics at every infection is a stupid idea because antibiotics don't work on viruses but bacteria. So I won't be buying anymore of your "natural" chicken

By Carla Peterson 6/11/2015 8:23:55 PM
Thank you Shawn. I am glad that you understand a mother being offended by Joe Sanderson's explanation of Sanderson Farm's antibiotic use. You apparently also watched PBS Frontline's "The Trouble with Chicken." A mother must, at times, depend upon emotion, that gut feeling, perhaps common sense. Or she may find that her child dies, waiting on the science.

By Shawn Johnson 6/9/2015 3:51:19 PM
I love Carla's comment about being 'offended' by Sanderson's position. No factual response - just a feeling of offense because he dares to defend his business practices. In a world where junk science is taking over, it is good to see someone question the emotion based decisions being made by companies like Tyson and Chipotle.

By Carla Peterson 5/22/2015 12:23:30 PM
I disagree with this decision and am offended by the extent to which Mr. Sanderson twisted "animal welfare" and "environmental responsibility and sustainability" to fit the company's agenda. The real issue here for this company is he stated in the news release. Efficiency equates to financial return. That is it; pure and simple. To cloak the decision to continue the abuse of antibiotics in food production in something less than the truth offends the buying public. Every mother who watched the PBS Frontline presentation, "The Trouble with Chicken", which aired this May 2015 knows the REAL truth. Foster Farms also never admitted any responsibility except in the one case where there simply was no single way to deny responsibility. This type of company is not one that I want to do business with. I want a company that offers a product that both the company and consumer can be proud of.

By Andi 5/21/2015 3:48:57 PM
Amen! I wish that the American public would understand exactly what Mr. Sanderson said..."...there’s no evidence whatsoever that using these antibiotics really does cause antibiotic resistant bacteria.” Kudos to Sanderson for doing the right thing.

By josh mayer 5/15/2015 10:05:12 AM
well said.