U.S.D.A. reverses Tyson antibiotic-free label approval

by Bryan Salvage
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SPRINGDALE, ARK. ― In June, Tyson Foods, Inc. announced it would produce all of its branded fresh chicken from birds raised without antibiotics. The company further planned to promote the antibiotic-free birds as part of a $70 million advertising campaign. But Tyson Foods suffered a setback when The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had notified Tyson that it made a mistake when it approved the "raised without antibiotics" label.

In a letter dated Nov. 6, the U.S.D.A. gave the company 45 days to change its label or adjust the feed rations it provides its chickens. This reversal occurred after the U.S.D.A. realized Tyson’s feeding regimen includes compounds called ionophores, which long have been considered to be an antibiotic by the agency.

"The Tyson labels at issue were thus approved in error," the U.S.D.A. letter said.

In a statement issued on Nov. 19, Tyson Foods said it remained committed to its "Raised without Antibiotics" chicken program.

"We stand by the truthfulness of our product labels and remain fully committed to our ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ chicken program," Tyson said. "We also expect no disruption in service to our customers."

Tyson further explained that it has been in discussion with U.S.D.A. officials on the best way to resolve this matter, and it has submitted modified labeling the company hopes will be approved soon.

"The additional wording states no ingredients have been used that could create antibiotic resistance in humans," Tyson said.

"We do not believe ionophores are antibiotics," Tyson contended. "The F.D.A. is the agency Congress has authorized to regulate animal drugs and it specifically excludes ionophores from the list of animal drugs deemed as antibiotics.

"Ionophores are recognized and approved by the federal government as a safe feed ingredient. They’re permitted in chicken feed as a preventive measure against coccidiosis, an intestinal illness, and are in a different class than antibiotics."

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