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Changes to the Chick-fil-A Antibiotic Use Policy in Spring of 2024 Is Not as Bad as It Sounds

Changes to the Chick-fil-A antibiotic use policy may sound scary, but it isn’t as bad as it may sound.

Chick-fil-A, a company synonymous with tasty chicken products, recently announced a changed in their antibiotic use policy. This change is slated for Spring 2024. Essentially, any day now.

Here’s what it means.

Historically, the Chick-fil-A Antibiotic Use Policy Was No Antibiotics Ever (NAE)

In line with what the educated consumer wants and the growing concern for antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, Chick-fil-A and other chicken retailers have made a stand to have a “No Antibiotics Ever” (NAE) policy.

When providing this label, the chain is only able to source from poultry suppliers that choose this regulated growing practice. Poultry farmers fall under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are routinely inspected to ensure that if they choose to use that label, they are following the set rules.

No Antibiotics Ever means:

  • No preventative antibiotic medications can be given.
  • If an animal is sick, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.
  • At no point in the animal’s life will it be given antibiotic medications.

This was a move Chick-fil-A started in 2014, with complete transition to NAE in 2019. This decision came from the firm’s attempt to be in line with consumer standards.

New Chick-fil-A Antibiotic Use Policy Will Be No Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine (NAIHM)

This spring, the chicken giant will be sourcing poultry with accreditation that includes “No Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine” (NAIHM).

Under these guidelines, Chick-fil-A poultry suppliers may use antibiotics not routinely used for human medicine. Instead of the typical “-cillin” and “-cycline” based antibiotics, poultry farmers opt for treatments such as ionophores and coccidiostats under the NAIHM program.

Chick-Fil-A Statement

In a recent statement, Chick-fil-A announced their plan.

“To maintain supply of the high-quality chicken you expect from us, Chick-fil-A will shift from No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) to No Antibiotics Important To Human Medicine (NAIHM) starting in the Spring of 2024.

NAE means no antibiotics of any kind were used in raising the animal. NAIHM restricts the use of those antibiotics that are important to human medicine and commonly used to treat people, and allows use of animal antibiotics only if the animal and those around it were to become sick.

Chick-fil-A has been dedicated to quality since the beginning. Our commitment to the high-quality chicken you expect from us is rooted in three simple things.”

“Selective about the chicken we serve.”

“Maintaining high animal wellbeing standards.”

“Continuing to evaluate our approach.”

What has changed in the past 10 years to prompt this move?

Why Did Chick-fil-A Update Their Antibiotic Use Stance?

If NAE suppliers were so important 10 years ago, what has prompted this move for Chick-fil-A to update their antibiotic use stance?

According to a 2019 statement made by then director, menu and packaging, Matt Abercrombie, “We know consumers care about how their food is made and where it comes from, including the use of antibiotics. Because it was important to our customers, it was important to us.”

But now, it is becoming increasingly difficult to source chicken supplies that both meet their rigid standards and comply with NAE regulations.

A spokesperson from Chick-fil-A explained, the policy change is “due to challenges it foresees in finding chicken supplies that ‘meets our rigid standards.’”

Other Well-Known Names in Chicken Have Done the Same

Chick-fil-A is not alone in this trend. In fact, chicken producer, Tyson foods made the same announcement in July 2023. The chicken mogul said this change in direction was based on “sound science and an evolving understanding of the best practices impacting our customers, consumers, and the animals in our care.”

This was a move Tyson did not take lightly. While quality supply is getting increasingly difficult to find without the use of antibiotics, ensuring that only antibiotics not important to human health were used was an essential part of their decision-making.

According to a company statement, “While roughly half of the industry uses some form of antibiotic in producing chicken, NAIHM is a heightened standard that has been recognized by the USDA for decades and qualified through program documentation showing no antibiotics important to human health have been use.”

What is the Controversy Over Antibiotic Use in Poultry?

Studies have shown that the increase in antibiotic use as a mandatory poultry and livestock production practice has led to the development of bacterial resistance against antibiotics.

Overuse of antibiotics or inadequate use allows bacteria to mutate and evolve a resistance to the medication. Only the bacterial strains that can survive the antibiotic treatment will survive and multiply.

These bacteria are usually found in the digestive tract of the animal and pass through their feces. Consequently, these resistant bacteria end up in the upper layer of soil around the poultry farm and can spread “within at least a 25-meter range.”

But why does that matter?

Many times, animal waste is disposed of as manure. This natural fertilizer is often used on crops meant for human consumption. When these crops become contaminated, humans are put at risk. People becoming sick from these crops are now unable to recover with conventional treatment.

Additionally, if proper withdrawal periods (time between last administered dose and animal processing) are not observed, antibiotics may remain in the animal’s system. Thus, exposing the consumer to a small amount of unnecessary antibiotics.

The effects trickle down.

So, Why Use Antibiotics at All?

You may be thinking, if the risks are so great, why use antibiotics at all?

That’s a good question with a simple answer.

Just like other animals, sometimes livestock get sick. When they get sick, they can spread illness to others. If possible, sick animals can be quarantined to help prevent the spread through the rest of the farm. But that still leaves you with sick animals.

Should an animal be culled, and their life wasted because they are sick from a treatable illness? Should an animal needlessly suffer when treatment is available? Unfortunately, not all farms can operate under two separate standards (both NAE and NAIHM on the same farm).

Most people would say, “treat the animal.”

So that is where NAIHM comes into play.

Prudent use of medications that do not impact human medical practices are the humane way of handling illnesses in livestock.

Will This Change in Chick-fil-A Antibiotic Use Policy Affect Your Consumer Decisions?

Does this return to NAIHM sourcing affect your consumer decisions? How important is No Antibiotics Ever to your buying habits?

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like Changes to the Chick-fil-A Antibiotic Use Policy in Spring of 2024 Is Not as Bad as It Sounds, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)

Heather Van Tassell

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