Perdue’s latest marketing campaign isn’t subtle. It shows Jim Perdue and (presumably) his two sons walking through the company’s corporate offices. The boys tell viewers that their “biggest competitor” (they don’t name it directly, but they’re referring to Tyson) is going back to giving their chickens antibiotics before they’re even sick. The boys say you can’t solve your problems by “throwing antibiotics at them.” The commercial then shows a woman throwing pills at the engine of her broke-down car. Cut to a promotion for Perdue who claims to raise chickens in a “healthy” way that doesn’t require the use of antibiotics.
Perdue’s website dedicates an entire page to the campaign, and claims that antibiotic use is dangerous for people and the environment. It also states that Tyson (still unnamed) is using antibiotics that aren’t approved for use in humans. And Perdue, of course, puts the health of their birds and customers over profit.
So what’s going on here?
It all has to do with the “No Antibiotics Ever” label you maybe saw on your chicken products over the last decade. In the mid-2010s, conversations about antibiotic use in animal agriculture was coming under greater scrutiny. Farms sometimes used antibiotics as part of their production practices, including to grow bigger birds. But in 2017 the FDA revised its regulations to eliminate those uses, and required veterinarian oversight for any antibiotic use to treat sick chickens.
The FDA’s efforts, however, came a little too late. How? Well, the country’s largest chicken producers had already started using—and promoting—a “no antibiotics ever” label. (Sanderson Farms was a notable exception.) In 2015, Tyson embraced the label and promised its birds would never receive any antibiotic treatments…ever. Perdue made a similar commitment.
Now Tyson has amended its policy. Following the devastation from avian flu and other diseases, Tyson will again allow farmers to use antibiotics to prevent and treat sick chickens. It will only allow the use of antibiotics that aren’t important for human health. Perdue seized on this announcement to market its own products and continuing commitment to no-antibiotics-ever.
Tyson’s amended stance is actually better for chickens. While the FDA still doesn’t allow antibiotic use for production, treating sick birds and preventing the spread of illness isn’t a bad thing! In fact, it’s more inhumane not to care for animals suffering from illnesses, which is precisely the position Perdue has taken. Both Tyson and Perdue adopted a ridiculous approach to antibiotics as a marketing ploy. Tyson is just now seeing the error of that decision.
Perdue’s hubris is remarkable. It’s claims that these antibiotics are harmful for humans and the environment is unfounded. Antibiotics must clear from an animal’s system before they’re slaughtered. So even if you purchase and consume Tyson’s products, you won’t be eating antibiotics. As for the environment, it is possible to responsibly use antibiotics.
The more important concern is actually antibiotic resistance. That’s why the FDA revised its regulations to prevent overuse of antibiotics. It’s also the reason why animal agriculture usually uses antibiotics that are no longer used to treat humans; it minimizes the chances that bacteria will build a resistance to our antibiotics. So the fact that Tyson is using those antibiotics is actually a good thing (and, by law, I believe they have to anyway)!
Perdue’s marketing campaign is absolutely shameful. Tyson is simply taking a nuanced position that considers animal health, even if it doesn’t make for great headlines. And it’s doing so in a way that’s safe for everyone. I’m sure the Perdue boys feel really proud of their commercial, but I won’t be choosing their products at my grocery store.