Chicken producer Sanderson says FDA's crackdown on antibiotics lacks 'reliable science'

Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson

Joe Sanderson, CEO of chicken producer Sanderson Farms ($SAFM), doesn't care that rival Tyson ($TSN) has vowed to stop raising its chickens with antibiotics that are important to human healthcare. Nor is he miffed by the decision by fast-food giant McDonald's ($MCD) to wipe antibiotics-raised chickens from its menus over the next two years. Those moves, of course, came in response to a crackdown by the FDA on the use of antibiotics in food animals--a practice that's believed to contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance in people.

Sanderson says he's telling his chicken farmers to continue using antibiotics to treat sick birds and prevent illnesses, because he believes the FDA's concerns are overblown, according to The Wall Street Journal. "There's no reliable science that says by using these [government] approved antibiotics, that there is going to be any resistance," Sanderson told the paper.

Sanderson's comments come just a day after the FDA proposed its latest plan to curb antibiotics use. On Tuesday, the agency introduced a draft rule that would require companies that make antibiotics for use in animals to obtain sales estimates from food animal producers. The FDA would then publish an annual summary of antibiotics sales and distribution information, according to a press release from the agency.

The goal is to improve the FDA's understanding of how antibiotics are distributed, so it can better target its activities aimed at ensuring "judicious use" of the drugs, the release says.

The government's ongoing battle against antibiotic resistance continues to stir up controversy among scientists, veterinarians, and food producers. Despite the swift actions by the likes of Tyson and McDonald's, some critics say the measures meant to curb antibiotic use on farms are too soft. In March, the Natural Resources Defense Council charged that the White House plan still allows the everyday feeding of antibiotics to food animals.

In January, the FDA implemented a rule barring the use of antibiotics on farms without prescriptions from veterinarians. But even the FDA is questioning the effectiveness of that rule. It recently disclosed that milk samples from 2,000 farms contained residue from 11 drugs, including the antibiotic florfenicol, which is not approved for use in lactating cows.

Now the FDA is proposing a new tool to test drug residues in milk. The tool would expand the selection of antibiotics that can be detected, including some that have been recently approved. The agency is seeking the public's feedback on the idea until June 29.

- read more at the WSJ (sub. req.)
- here's the FDA's press release on the proposed antibiotics rule
- read more about the agency's proposal on milk testing at Reuters