Foster Farms to shift from an­tibi­otic use in poul­try

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Ge­of­frey Mo­han ge­of­frey.mo­han @la­times.com Twit­ter: @LAT­ge­off­mo­han

Cal­i­for­nia poul­try gi­ant Foster Farms has joined the flock of meat com­pa­nies es­chew­ing the use of an­tibi­otics, pledg­ing to elim­i­nate all those used to com­bat in­fec­tion in hu­mans.

The com­pany’s prom­ise comes ahead of Tues­day’s White House fo­rum on the use of an­tibi­otics, and amid ris­ing con­cern that use of the drugs to raise live­stock has aided the pro­lif­er­a­tion of re­sis­tant strains of bac­te­ria among hu­mans.

More than 2 mil­lion peo­ple in the U.S. are in­fected with such strains an­nu­ally, and at least 23,000 die as a re­sult, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

“Our com­pany is com­mit­ted to re­spon­si­ble grow­ing prac­tices that help pre­serve the ef­fec­tive­ness of an­tibi­otics for hu­man health and medicine,” Foster Farms Chief Ex­ec­u­tive and Pres­i­dent Ron Foster said.

Although over-pre­scrip­tion of an­tibi­otics to hu­mans has been a long-term driver of drug-re­sis­tant strains, an­tibi­otic use for an­i­mals also has been linked to re­sis­tant strains of sal­monella and campy­lobac­ter.

Foster Farms in­tro­duced two new an­tibi­otic-free prod­uct lines in April: Cer­ti­fied Or­ganic and Sim­ply Raised.

The com­pany has elim­i­nated all an­tibi­otics that the U.S. Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment and the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion deem cru­cial to hu­man medicine, Foster Farms spokesman Ira Brill said.

“We have a long-term goal of fully elim­i­nat­ing all an­tibi­otics that are used in the prac­tice of hu­man medicine,” he said.

Brill said he could not of­fer a timeline for a com­plete elim­i­na­tion of an­tibi­otics that also are pre­scribed to hu­mans.

“I don’t think we can put a date on that ex­cept to say that we are ag­gres­sively work­ing to­ward that goal,” he said.

The com­pany is re­search­ing al­ter­na­tive prac­tices to im­prove over­all flock health, Brill said.

“As you con­tinue to im­prove bird health, then your need for an­tibi­otics de­clines,” he said.

Foster’s change of heart about an­tibi­otics fol­lows shifts away from the use of hu­man an­tibi­otics by fel­low poul­try gi­ant Per­due, as well as re­tail food chains McDon­ald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chipo­tle and Pan­era, among oth­ers.

The CEO of poul­try pro­ducer San­der­son Farms, how­ever, told the Wall Street Jour­nal re­cently that he has no plans to move away from an­tibi­otics.

Con­sumer pres­sure for an­tibi­otics-free meat has in­ten­si­fied over the last sev­eral years. Sales of or­ganic beef, pork, poul­try and fish in­creased 11% from 2012 to 2013, to $675 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group push­ing to limit use of the drugs.

Jonathan Ka­plan, direc­tor of the group’s food and agri­cul­ture pro­gram, cred­ited Foster Farms for be­ing “on track and head­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

But the com­pany’s an­nounce­ment “is not quite as ro­bust as what Per­due has al­ready ac­com­plished or what Tyson has pledged to do,” Ka­plan said. “They still have com­mit­ted to mov­ing away from the med­i­cally im­por­tant an­tibi­otics, and that’s the main con­cern.”

About a third of the broiler chick­ens pro­duced now are raised with tight re­stric­tions on an­tibi­otic use, ac­cord­ing to the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil.

“We def­i­nitely feel like we are hit­ting a tip­ping point for an­tibi­otic stew­ard­ship in the poul­try in­dus­try,” Ka­plan said. “This is more than a mi­crotrend. This is a tsunami.”

Foster Farms, which em­ploys about 12,000 peo­ple na­tion­ally and has sales of $2.7 bil­lion, is based in Livingston, Calif., and op­er­ates five pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties in the state as well as nu­mer­ous ranches, mostly in the San Joaquin Val­ley.

The com­pany has bat­tled back from a 2013 out­break of sal­monella that sick­ened hun­dreds of peo­ple in 2013, as well as a more re­cent cock­roach in­fes­ta­tion and rash of food safety ci­ta­tions at its Livingston plant.

Since then, it has re­vamped its food safety pro­ce­dures. Mea­sured sal­monella preva­lence on poul­try at Foster fa­cil­i­ties is now well be­low USDA and in­dus­try­wide stan­dards, Brill said.

“If you look back on the food safety is­sues, that was an area where we prob­a­bly sat­is­fied our­selves with be­ing av­er­age — and we re­al­ized you can­not lead in a lot of ar­eas if you don’t lead in all ar­eas,” Brill said. “Right now, con­sumers can look at Foster Farms as about the safest chick­ens you can buy.”

Foster Farms

POUL­TRY GI­ANT Foster Farms re­cently in­tro­duced two an­tibi­otic-free prod­uct lines: Cer­ti­fied Or­ganic and Sim­ply Raised. The Livingston, Calif., com­pany op­er­ates five pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties in the state.

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