The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has told Tyson to stop using the antibiotic-free label, but the company has sued for the right to keep using it.
Poultry farmers regularly treat chickens and other birds with antibiotics. But scientists have become increasingly concerned that the routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture may accelerate the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
After Tyson began labeling its chicken antibiotic-free, the USDA warned the company that such labels were not truthful, because Tyson regularly treats its birds' feed with bacteria-killing ionophores. Tyson argued that ionophores are antimicrobials rather than antibiotics, and are not used on human patients. Tyson suggested a compromise which was eventually accepted by the USDA -- they would use a label reading "raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans."
Tyson's competitors: Perdue Farms Inc., Sanderson Farms Inc. and Foster Farms sued, and in May 2008, a federal judge ruled in their favor and told Tyson to stop using the label. Not long after, USDA inspectors discovered that in addition to using ionophores, Tyson was regularly injecting its chicken eggs with gentamicin, an antibiotic that has been used for more than 30 years.
The agency told Tyson that based on the new discovery, it would no longer consider the antibiotic-free label "truthful and accurate." Tyson objected again, claiming that because the antibiotics are injected before the chickens hatched, the birds can truthfully be said to be "raised without antibiotics." Tyson has filed a lawsuit against the USDA, claiming that the agency had improperly changed the definition of "raised without antibiotics" to include the treatment of eggs.
Tyson’s claim may be technically true -- which makes it just about the worst kind of deceptive advertising there is without outright lying. It’s this kind of semantics that can drive even the sanest person wild.
When they say that their chickens are “raised without antibiotics", they are clearly trying to give the impression that their chickens do not contain any kind of antibiotics.
However, the chicken on your plate is anything but antibiotic-free since they’ve injected the eggs with antibiotics, and raised the hatchlings on feed that contains antibiotics.
Sad to say, this is typical behavior when it comes to big business. Whenever a packaged food or a large retailer makes a health claim, your first reaction should be suspicion, not trust.
Other glaring examples of this kind of deceptive marketing tactics include:
- Splenda -- They would dearly like you to believe that this artificial sweetener is natural because it is “made from sugar”. But it’s nothing but another half-truth meant to convince you of a falsehood, and the Sugar Association has sued them over this marketing strategy.
- 7-Up -- Cadbury Schwepps ran an ad campaign that promoted the soda as "100 percent natural" with pictures of cans of 7-Up being picked from fruit trees. The Center for Science in the Public Interest threatened to sue Cadbury Schwepps, calling their ad a “misleading untruth.”
- Omega-3 Eggs -- Eggs that advertise their omega-3 content may be defrauding the public by claiming they can reduce your risk of heart disease. The deception here is that these eggs are typically low in the animal-based omega-3 fat DHA, which is far more beneficial to you than the plant-based ALA that most omega-3 eggs contain.
- Farm-raised fish carrying the organic label – Applying the organic label to animal food products raised in food factories is a simple bastardization of the term. It is impossible to obtain all the benefits that were naturally included in these fish once artificial manipulation is introduced into the system.
Breeding Antibiotic-Resistant Disease
Poultry farmers regularly treat chickens and other birds with antibiotics to prevent the development of intestinal infections that might reduce the weight (and profitability) of the birds.
Yet scientists have become increasingly concerned that the routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture may accelerate the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could lead to a pandemic or other human health crisis.
For example, gentamicin, the antibiotic that Tyson injects into its eggs, has been used for more than 30 years in the United States to treat many types of bacterial infections in humans, including urinary tract and blood infections. The drug is also stockpiled as a treatment for biological agents such as plague.
Does the practice of using gentamicin in poultry pose a real hazard to your health?
Yes. The practice is likely contributing to and speeding up the emergence of antibiotic-resistant enterococci, which are the leading causes of surgical wound infections and urinary tract infections. Enterococci have developed high-level resistance not only gentamicin, but also other antibiotics over the last two to three decades.
Another antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that can wreak havoc on your health is campylobacter, a pathogen common to chicken products, which is responsible for inducing food poisoning in more than 1 million Americans every year, and is considered a growing health threat.
Chickens that are truly raised without antibiotics, however, are far less likely to carry antibiotic-resistant strains of campylobacters, according to a study by Johns Hopkins.
Researchers have also found that conventionally-grown chicken products are up to 460 times more likely to carry antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli than antibiotic-free chicken products.
But That’s Not the Only Problem With Conventional Poultry Products!
However, my concerns with conventionally-raised poultry (and other livestock) do not end there. Because in addition to the antibiotics typically added to conventional livestock feed, this feed is also laced with the pesticides used in growing the foods it's made of.
Unlike conventional fruits and vegetables, where peeling and washing can greatly reduce the amounts of these toxins, the pesticides and drugs that these animals get exposed to during their lives can become incorporated into their very tissues, especially their fat.
While you can cut off some of it, you may still be ingesting high amounts of toxins if you consume such foods regularly.
Additionally, feed additives like Roxarsone, the most common arsenic-based additive used in chicken feed to promote growth, kill parasites and improve the color of the meat, have been raised as having potential health risks.
Although Roxarsone is normally benign, under certain conditions that can occur within live chickens or on farm land, the compound converts into more toxic forms of inorganic arsenic, which has been linked to:
- Bladder cancer
- Lung cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Skin cancer
- Partial paralysis
A number of food suppliers have stopped using Roxarsone, including Tyson Foods. But even so, 70 percent of the chickens produced annually in the United States are fed Roxarsone.
Yet another problem with conventional livestock feed is that it is typically made of foods that are not natural to the animal's diet. Whether it's corn for cows or soybeans for chickens, these animals rarely have access to the foods they are naturally adapted to eat. This situation is not only problematic for the animals -- when you eat their meat, it can become a problem for you.
One of the main reasons for this is that the fatty acid profiles of chicken fed its natural diet have a much better balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats than those of a conventionally-raised chicken. An imbalanced intake of these fats is a contributing factor to many of the chronic diseases modern society is faced with today.
Last but not least, conventionally-raised chickens are typically given little, if any, access to the outdoors. The benefits from frequent sunlight exposure can certainly be extrapolated to cows and chickens as well as humans. At the very least, the vitamin D levels in an animal that has regular access to sunlight are likely to be much higher than those of an animal kept indoors all day.
More vitamin D for them means more vitamin D for you when you eat their meat.
What’s the Answer to This Problem?
If you really want to be sure your food is healthy and safe, you might want to try avoiding grocery stores altogether, as conventionally-raised livestock, including chickens, are not your best choice.
And, adding insult to injury, about 30 percent of all fresh chickens sold in your supermarket have been pumped and plumped with as much as fifteen percent salt water, potential cancer-producing carrageenan, and other additives. This equates to cash strapped consumers paying about $2 billion a year for salt water! These chickens also contain about 800 percent more sodium per serving than expected.
More and more people are buying food fresh off the farm from producers they personally know and trust, through CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), farmers’ markets, or other local food movements. When you can actually go visit the farm itself, you can see that it’s natural, fresh, and exactly as advertised.
If you want to get started on this, there are plenty of organizations around to help you out. If you live in an area with severely restricted access to any of these outlets, then, for your convenience, I also have organic, free-range, antibiotic-free chicken available in my online store.
And if you are concerned that organic, free-range poultry and other natural foods are too expensive, please be sure to read Colleen Huber's excellent article on finding organic foods for the same price as processed, conventional foods.