UPDATED: Perdue says its chick hatcheries are now antibiotic-free

Bruce Stewart-Brown

Perdue Foods said it has removed all antibiotics from its chicken hatcheries as part of the company's overall approach to using the antimicrobials. The overuse of antibiotics in production animals has come under heavy attack by the FDA and consumer and medical organizations.

Perdue hasn't used antibiotics for growth promotion of its chickens since 2007, the company said in a release. It does continue to use animal-only antibiotics to treat intestinal parasites and illnesses in sick flocks.

"By no longer using any antibiotics in our hatcheries or any human antibiotics in feed, we've reached the point where 95% of our chickens never receive any human antibiotics, and the remainder receive them only for a few days when prescribed by a veterinarian," Bruce Stewart-Brown, a Perdue vice president, said in a statement.

Scientific evidence from the FDA has proven a correlation between nonmedical use of antibiotics to fatten farm animals before slaughter and spikes in antibiotic-resistant infections, including the deadly MRSA bacterial infection. In 2013, the regulatory agency slammed drug companies for marketing antibiotics to production operators and farmers that weren't medically viable for their animals, and urged animal health companies to voluntarily help remove 283 products in question.

In June, the FDA reported that 31 of the antimicrobials have been withdrawn from the market completely. Twenty-six drug companies, including animal health heavyweights Zoetis ($ZTS), Bayer and Boehringer Ingelheim, are cooperating with the agency in phasing out their products. The agency is now 6 months into a three-year transition period for its actions.

The American Medical Association (AMA), the nation's largest physician group, called for stronger federal action this summer to ban antibiotic use in food animals for growth-promotion purposes and better data collection on how and where animal antibiotics are being used.

- see the Perdue release