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Sanderson Farms announces change in antibiotic use program

Company to discontinue use of gentamicin and virginiamycin for disease prevention.

Krissa Welshans

November 30, 2018

3 Min Read
Sanderson Farms announces change in antibiotic use program
Credit: buhanovskiy/iStock/Thinkstock.

Sanderson Farms Inc. announced Nov. 30 that it will discontinue by March 1, 2019 using antibiotics considered medically important for humans for disease prevention in its live poultry operations. The company’s announcement is significant considering it has been vocal over the past couple years, promoting industry transparency and tackling issues such as labeling misconceptions, antibiotics and steroids, and marketing “gimmicks” prevalent in the poultry industry.

The company said the latest change follows the completion of an independent study it commissioned earlier this year on its antibiotics program for its live operations. As part of its ongoing animal welfare and antibiotic stewardship efforts, the company commissioned an advisory board of scientific experts in poultry production, livestock management, and antibiotic use in veterinary and human medicine to study and report on the company’s use of antibiotics in its live poultry production operations.

The advisory board found no misuse of antibiotics at Sanderson Farms or other deficiencies in its program. Instead, the advisory board found that compared to the rest of the industry, the company's broiler chickens “have better than average health,” and that “current [Sanderson Farms] management practices, including their use of antibiotics, are effective to preserve the health and life of chicks and birds.” The advisory board also believes the number of broiler chickens treated with antibiotics for disease at Sanderson Farms in 2017 “is low relative to conventional operations of comparable size.”

Among the advisory board’s other key findings were:

  • “Raised without antibiotics” (RWA) and “no antibiotics ever” (NAE) programs in the U.S. in which chickens are never given any kinds of antibiotics for any reason could create unnecessary risks to animal welfare, an increased demand for feed grains and other natural resources, and significant, additional animal waste. The panel noted that U.S. RWA/NAE programs may be inferior to European practices because they withhold from birds even antibiotics that are not used in humans.

  • The panel stated that “it is not possible to estimate with a high level of confidence the true risk to human health posed by antibiotic use practices in poultry production.”

  • However, the advisory board concluded that “[a] move by [Sanderson Farms] to a system where non-medically important antibiotics . . . can be used for prevention, and medically important antibiotics can be used for treatment and control of disease, could represent a responsible compromise to better preserve efficacy of antibiotics important for human health, while also avoiding the adverse impacts of a RWA/NAE system on chicken health and welfare.”

“We are grateful for the work of the independent scientists who served on the advisory board, and we value their findings. As a result of their report, we have determined to discontinue by March 1, 2019, the use of gentamicin and virginiamycin for prevention of disease in our live operations. These are the only two antibiotics considered medically important for humans that we currently use for prevention purposes,” said Joe F. Sanderson, Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Sanderson Farms.

Sanderson said the company’s live production team, including its team of veterinarians, is prepared “to ensure this change has as little impact as possible on the health and welfare of our birds and environmental resources.”

He continued, “As we have stated many times, we and our veterinary team are committed to the judicious use of antibiotics in our birds. The change we are announcing today is consistent with this commitment and with our dedication to antibiotic stewardship and animal welfare.”

The scientific advisory board's full report is available on the Investor Relations page of the Sanderson Farms website at www.sandersonfarms.com under “Events & Presentations.”

About the Author(s)

Krissa Welshans

Livestock Editor

Krissa Welshans grew up on a crop farm and cow-calf operation in Marlette, Michigan. Welshans earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University and master’s degree in public policy from New England College. She and her husband Brock run a show cattle operation in Henrietta, Texas, where they reside with their son, Wynn.

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