CHICK-fil-A Inc. announced last week its plan to serve antibiotic-free chicken in all of its restaurants nationwide within five years.
As a result of Chick-fil-A consumer research, the company is partnering with its poultry suppliers to build the supply of chickens raised without antibiotics necessary to match the chain's sales volume. In addition, the company is asking its poultry suppliers to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to verify that no antibiotics were administered to the birds.
"A shift this significant will take some time as it requires changes along every point of the supply chain — from the hatchery to the processing plant. Our suppliers are committed, and we pledge to have this conversion completed within five years or sooner based on supply chain readiness," said Tim Tassopoulos, executive vice president of operations for Chick-fil-A.
"Because this will take some time, we will begin posting quarterly updates on our website in 2015 after our initial phase-in. We want to make it easy for customers to monitor our progress," he added.
In reaction to the Chick-fil-A announcement, the National Chicken Council (NCC) said it recognizes that this is a business decision by the company in response to consumer demand.
Nevertheless, Dr. Ashley Peterson, NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, reminded consumers in an NCC statement, "Antibiotics are not always used in chicken production; rather, they are administered to prevent and treat disease only under the care of a licensed veterinarian. The science shows that responsible and judicious use of (Food & Drug Administration-approved) antibiotics to treat and prevent disease in livestock and poultry is both safe and effective."
NCC stated that all chicken production systems — including organic, antibiotic-free and traditional systems — are necessary to provide consumers with safe, wholesome and affordable food.
The amazing variety of choice today allows consumers to select products that take into account many factors, including taste preference, personal values and affordability, Peterson said.
"Many of our members offer antibiotic-free poultry lines to provide a choice in the marketplace for consumers," she added. "We're proud of our industry and how we produce a wide range of food for a wide range of consumers."