by Marion Nestle
Jun 20 2007

Tyson Antibiotic-Free Chicken

In a full-page ad in today’s New York Times, Tyson Foods announces that all of its Tyson brand fresh chicken will be raised without antibiotics and marketed as “100% All Natural Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics–No Hormones Administered and No Artificial Ingredients.”

Tyson deserves applause for taking an important step toward greater food safety. Use of antibiotics as growth promoters increases chicken growth rates by about 10%, but non-therapeutic use of antibiotics increases antibiotic resistance in chicken bacteria. Resistant bacteria can spread to poultry workers, their families, and beyond, meaning that if the bacteria make people sick, the antibiotics will be useless as treatment. Tyson is a huge company that sells more than $26 billion worth of beef, chicken, and pork annually. If it eliminates non-therapeutic antibiotics, other companies may be encouraged to do the same.

The ad implies that only Tyson brand chicken is eliminating antibiotics and that its traditional chicken–undoubtedly the vast majority of what it produces–will continue to be treated with these drugs. If so, Tyson is positioning this particular chicken as a premium brand quite likely to be sold at a premium price. Watch for this at your grocery store.

As for No Hormones Administered: A footnote in tiny print at the bottom of the illustrated package label says “federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in chicken.” Chickens are never treated with hormones anyway.

Finally, “100% All Natural” simply means that the chicken has no artificial ingredients and is minimally processed. It does NOT mean that the chicken is Certified Organic or that the chickens are raised under uncrowded conditions, an issue I discuss in the What to Eat chapter titled “Meat: Organic versus “Natural.”

Take a look at the ad and tell me what you think.

  • This was the only link I could find on your website about the Tyson “raised without antibiotics” claim. It might be helpful to your readers to update them about USDA rejecting their label and the misleading nature of the claim. While it is good that they are not using the antibiotics that we use for human treatment, they still administer continual doses of ionophores, a drug that USDA considers to be an antibiotic, and surely this is not something that the average consumer would understand.
    I have been tracking the issue somewhat, so if you have any new information, or if I can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for producing such a great website. My law students are using it in my class this semester, Selected Issues in Food Law.

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  • Jeanne

    I have read articles that Tyson does not administer antibotics or hormones to it’s ” growing chickens, but do they still administer these ingredients to the eggs before they hatch, therefore misleading the public? I do not want to go totally vegan, but am leaning towards this and eating mostly organic trying to cut down on ingesting toxins. Thanks Jeanne

  • Of course Tyson’s doesn’t use antibiotics or hormones. Nobody does (or is supposed to) with laying chickens. And there would not be a reason to add them to eggs. I tend to take this one at face value, if that helps.

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  • Melissa Dillenburg

    I recently did a search for organic meat in my area and surprise…. only whole foods carrys meats with the organic seal. But during my quest I found a meat department employee that obviously didn’t have a clue I asked “Do you carry organic meat?” His response was “That’s ALL we carry” and I said “So it all has the organic seal on it?” he replied “Well no its all natural and I don’t know why people ask for organic, natural is the same thing.” I would love to call the supermarket and let them know how little their employees really care about the work.

  • I had exactly the same experience in a meat market in New York, and wrote about it in the organic vs. natural chapter of What to Eat. Sorry to hear that it’s still happening, but thanks for writing.

  • ak

    Melissa, I had the almost the same exact conversation at a Whole Foods in NYC. I was looking for organic ground turkey, but only saw ground turkey without the organic seal. When I asked an employee if they had any organic ground turkey, he replied, that all their meat products are organic. I asked why they didn’t all have the “organic” seal, and he simply responded that they are all organic and I left confused!

    Your comment has clarified that he may have been assuming that organic and natural are the same thing.

    I have to say though that other employees I’ve spoken to have been pretty knowledgeable and helpful. He was the one exception.

  • joliedemarco

    How do we know if a chicken is not cloned?? we know all the facts about “natural,hormones and such” but what about cloned??
    any info please

  • Peggy Brown

    As an owner of one of Tyson’s new brand of organic chicken, I can attest to tbe fact there are no feed fillers, antibiotics and are literally cage free. My farm is certified by the USDA and the chickens have free range of a 45 × 600 ft house. If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to ask. I also am an animal lover and have a biology degree.

  • Christy Lee

    Peggy, I would love to ask you questions, please look for me on Facebook.

  • Sophia

    Hmm…this says nothing about Tyson’s recent decision to drastically cut the chicken inspection payroll and dip chickens in bleach instead. Yech. And they don’t have to put “BLEACH” on the label. This is why I shop at Trader Joe’s.