Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network.

Tyson Plans to Eliminate Human Antibiotics from its Chickens

File: Kathleen Masterson/Harvest Public Media
Many chicken producers add antibiotics to the feed they supply their flocks.

Tyson Foods, the country's largest poultry producer, says it will stop feeding its chickens antibiotics that are used to treat humans.  The company says it plans to eliminate the drugs in its broiler chicken flocks-- chickens grown for meat -- by September 2017.

Farmers that raise livestock often add antibiotics to animal feed in an effort to treat disease and to prevent diseases from spreading. Adding low-levels of antibiotics to feed can also help animals grow more quickly, and packing on the pounds has made antibiotics a popular feed additive.

The problem is that the overuse of antibiotics can lead to strains of bacteria resistant to treatment, often called “super bugs,” as our Kristofer Husted reported earlier.

By adding antimicrobial drugs to livestock at a low dose, “we would select for the resistant organisms that would then pass through the environment or the food chain and into humans,” said Mike Apley, a professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University.

That can lead to dangerous, un-treatable illnesses in humans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked pharmaceutical companies in 2013 to voluntarily phase out the use of antimicrobial drugs that promote growth in livestock.

Major players in livestock like Perdue and Pilgrim’s Pride have cut their use of antibiotics. McDonald’s said last month that it will stop serving meat from chickens that have been treated with antibiotics that are medically important to human medicine.

The announcement does not mean that Tyson’s chickens will be antibiotic free, as NPR’s Dan Charles pointed out:

Tyson still will use a class of antibiotics called ionophores that are not used to treat humans. If bacteria develop resistance to ionophores, doctors don't care, because they never use ionophores anyway.

However, the announcement does signal a big change for Tyson, which controls about one-fifth of the U.S. chicken market and produces about 2 billion birds a year, according to Politico. And for the U.S. livestock industry.