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Why Some Brands are Switching to Meat and Poultry with Antibiotics

April 19, 2024 by FreshByte Software

Never say never.

At least that is what some large brands, such as Chick-fil-A, are finding out when it comes to pledges about meat, poultry, and antibiotics.

“A newly announced change to Chick-fil-A’s menu may ruffle some feathers,” reported Food and Wine. “The fast-food chicken chain announced this week via a notification on their app that it'll be ending its promise to only serve 100 percent antibiotic-free chicken.”

This comes after the popular fast-food chain announced in 2014 that it would serve only chickens raised without antibiotics in all its restaurants by 2019.

“Chick-fil-A has backtracked on its pledge never to use antibiotics in its chicken,” reported Healthline. “From spring, the restaurant is switching from a “No Antibiotics Ever NAE)” commitment to a “No Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine (NAIHM)” approach.”

Chick-fil-A is not alone, as Tyson Foods made the same switch from NAE to NAIHM last year – six years after saying it would eliminate the use of all antibiotics from its chicken carrying the Tyson brand sold at retail.

The Difference Between NAE and NAIHM

No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) and No Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine (NAIHM) are two different approaches to managing antibiotic use in animal agriculture:

  • No Antibiotics Ever (NAE): This term indicates that the animal never received antibiotics during its lifetime, neither for disease treatment nor for growth promotion. NAE is a stricter standard, as it prohibits the use of all antibiotics, regardless of their importance to human medicine. Raising animals without any antibiotics can be challenging, as it requires alternative methods to prevent and manage diseases.

  • No Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine (NAIHM): This term allows the use of antibiotics in animals that are not considered medically important for humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified antibiotics according to their importance in human medicine. Under the NAIHM approach, antibiotics that are critical for human health are prohibited, while those not deemed important for human medicine may be used to treat sick animals.

Why Some Brands Are Making the Switch to NAIHM

Some large brands are switching from NAE to NAIHM pledges due to several factors:

  • Supply Chain Challenges: Raising animals without any antibiotics can be more difficult and may result in higher mortality rates and slower growth. This can lead to supply shortages and increased costs.

  • Animal Welfare Concerns: If animals fall ill and antibiotic treatment is not allowed under the NAE standard, it may lead to prolonged suffering or death. The NAIHM approach allows for the treatment of sick animals with antibiotics not critical for human medicine.

  • Balancing Human and Animal Health: The NAIHM approach aims to strike a balance between protecting human health by preserving the effectiveness of crucial antibiotics and maintaining animal health and welfare by allowing the use of certain antibiotics when necessary.

  • Regulatory Changes: Some countries have implemented regulations that restrict the use of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture. Adapting to these changes may be more feasible under the NAIHM approach.

The shift from NAE to NAIHM reflects the ongoing efforts to address antibiotic resistance while ensuring a stable food supply and maintaining animal welfare.

However, it is essential for brands to be transparent about their antibiotic use policies and for consumers to understand the differences between these labels.

What Chick-fil-A and Tyson Say About Its Reversals on Antibiotics

Chick-fil-A released a statement saying that the chain has been dedicated to quality since the beginning and that their commitment to the high-quality chicken they serve is based on three principles:

  • Selective About the Chicken They Serve: Quality has always been their approach to food. And because chicken is at the center of their menu, they serve only real, white breast meat with no added fillers, artificial preservatives, or steroids. Like other chicken in the United States, theirs contains no added hormones.

  • Maintaining High Animal Wellbeing Standards: Chick-fil-A sources their chicken from farms in the U.S., in accordance with our Animal Wellbeing Standards.

  • Continuing to Evaluate Their Approach: The restaurant chain has established an Animal Wellbeing Council of outside experts, which will provide feedback on their policies and practices. With their input, Chick-fil-A will constantly evaluate their approach to animal wellbeing to ensure it is consistent with or exceeds industry standards.

“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,” explained Chick-fil-A.

As for Tyson, the company said the transition from NAE to NAIHM supported their approach to responsible stewardship and the decision was made with the best interest of people and animals in mind.

“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 used,” the company told the media.

Some Health Experts Fear the Switch but Proponents of NAIHM Say It's Safe

Some of the health experts interviewed in the Healthline article feared the switch from NAE to NAIHM. Here is what some of them said:

  • Nutritionist GQ Jordan: Says that the use of antibiotics in livestock production has “significant” negative effects for both animal welfare and human health and describes these risks as “real” and growing.” The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the most pressing health concern.

  • Pediatric Dietitian Emma Shafqat: Says there are already certain strains of bacteria that are now resistant to many different types of antibiotics, for example, MRSA, Clostridium difficile, and the bacteria that causes multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. However, the biggest concern is that new strains of bacteria will develop, and we will not be able to treat them.

Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health told Health that the term NAIHM “reflects the producers’ ability to use antibiotics that we don’t use in human medicine and appear to pose a minimal risk of selecting for bacteria that are resistant to drugs … therefore [it] poses a pretty low risk to human health from the perspective of microbial resistance.”

Proponents of the NAIHM approach argue that it is safe for consumers for several reasons:

  • Preserving Critical Antibiotics: By prohibiting the use of antibiotics that are crucial for human medicine, the NAIHM approach aims to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance in human pathogens. This helps to ensure that these antibiotics remain effective for treating human illnesses.

  • Regulated Withdrawal Periods: When antibiotics are used to treat sick animals under the NAIHM approach, strict withdrawal periods are followed. This means that the animal is not processed for food until a specified time has passed, allowing the antibiotics to clear from its system. This helps to minimize the risk of antibiotic residues in the final meat product.

  • Judicious Use of Antibiotics: The NAIHM approach promotes the responsible use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Antibiotics are used to treat sick animals, but not for growth promotion or routine disease prevention. This judicious use helps to reduce the overall use of antibiotics and minimize the risk of antibiotic resistance.

  • Monitoring and Surveillance: Meat and poultry products are routinely tested for antibiotic residues to ensure they are safe for human consumption. Regulatory agencies, such as the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), monitor and enforce these safety standards.

Know Your Meat and Poultry Common Terms

When purchasing meat and poultry, consumers often encounter various terms that describe how the animals were raised or the quality of the meat.

Here are some common terms and their explanations:

  • Grass-fed: This term indicates that the animal, typically cattle, was primarily fed grass throughout its life, rather than grains. Grass-fed meat is often leaner and may have a slightly different flavor profile compared to grain-fed meat.

  • Organic: Organic meat and poultry come from animals raised on certified organic farms. These animals are fed organic feed, not given antibiotics or growth hormones, and have access to the outdoors. Organic farming practices also prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

  • Free-Range or Free-Roaming: This term suggests that the animal, often referring to poultry, had access to the outdoors for at least part of the day. However, the specific conditions and duration of outdoor access can vary widely.

  • Pasture-Raised: Pasture-raised animals are raised outdoors on pasture, where they can engage in natural behaviors and consume a diet of grass and other plants. This term is not regulated, so conditions may vary.

  • Natural: Natural meat and poultry contain no artificial ingredients or added colors and are minimally processed. However, this term does not address animal-raising practices or the use of hormones and antibiotics.

  • No Hormones Added: This term indicates that the animals were not given growth hormones. However, the use of hormones is prohibited in raising pigs and poultry in the United States.

  • No Antibiotics: This label indicates that the animal was not given antibiotics during its lifetime. Some labels may specify "no medically important antibiotics," meaning antibiotics used in human medicine were not administered.

  • Humanely Raised: This term suggests that the animal was raised in a manner that prioritizes animal welfare. However, as the term is not regulated, it can mean different things to different producers.

It's essential for consumers to research and understand these terms, as regulations and enforcement can vary. Some labels, such as "organic," are regulated by the USDA, while others are less clearly defined.

A List of FSIS Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms

When you look closely at meat and poultry labels at the supermarket you might see other terms. The USDA Food and Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a glossary of such terms:

  • Basted or Self-Basted: Bone-in poultry products that are injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock, or water plus spices, flavor enhancers, and other approved substances must be labeled basted or self-basted.

  • Certified: The term "certified" implies that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Agriculture Marketing Service have officially evaluated a meat product for class, grade, or other quality characteristics (e.g., "Certified Angus Beef").

  • Fresh Poultry: “Fresh” means whole poultry and cuts have never been below 26 degrees.

  • Frozen Poultry: The temperature of raw, frozen poultry is 0 degrees or below.

  • Fryer-Roaster Turkey: Young, immature turkey usually less than 16 weeks of age of either sex.

  • Halal and Zabiah Hala: Products prepared by federally inspected meat packing plants identified with labels bearing references to "Halal" or "Zabiah Halal" must be handled according to Islamic law and under Islamic authority.

  • Hen or Tom Turkey: The sex designation of "hen" (female) or "tom" (male) turkey is optional on the label and is an indication of size rather than the tenderness of a turkey.

  • Kosher: "Kosher" may be used only on the labels of meat and poultry products prepared under rabbinical supervision.

  • Oven Prepared: The product is fully cooked and ready to eat.

  • Young Turkey: Turkeys of either sex that are less than 8 months of age according to present regulations.

Tags: Food Trends, Supply Chain

FreshByte Software

Written by FreshByte Software

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