The Truth About Antibiotics and Chicken

In the food production industry, the use of antibiotics in poultry has become a topic of much debate, as there is increasing backlash from activists and environmental groups about how chickens are raised. Various poultry producers and national restaurant chains are being swept up in the “antibiotic-free” hype. This pressure has led some within the industry to use labels and advertising to mislead consumers into believing that only their chicken is raised “cage-free” and “without added hormones.”

What most of these corporations and advocacy groups fail to mention is by law the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture require all chicken sold at the grocery store to be free of antibiotics. Additionally, the use of added hormones has been banned since the 1950s.

Bucking the “antibiotic free” trend, Sanderson Farms, the nation’s third largest poultry producer, continues to support the use of responsible antibiotics. The company attributes lack of credible scientific data, animal welfare issues, sustainability practices and the cost to consumers as the reasoning behind its decision.

Although Sanderson Farms’ position is supported by experts across the industry, the company is the first major poultry producer to come out in support of the responsible use of antibiotics. Taking the opposite approach of industry giants such as Tyson and Perdue Farms, Sanderson Farms embarked on this crusade after conducting focus groups and other research. The research found that mostly a small percentage of consumers felt strongly about the issue of antibiotics in chicken, but others were either indifferent or driven by price.

On August 1, 2016, the New York Times released a story entitled, “Poultry Producer Sanderson Farms Stands Its Ground: It’s Proud to Use Antibiotics.” Sanderson Farms simultaneously released its press release on the campaign, spawning a flood of stories in both national, local and industry publications.

The public response seemed to mirror the initial research results. Three months after the campaign launch, there were few published articles opposing Sanderson Farms’ claims, which was an effective indicator of the campaign’s success and the overall levels of consumer interest.

Sanderson Farms saw an upbeat in traffic in the digital sphere after the commercials began airing on July 18, 2016. Likewise, the campaign garnered some attention via social media, mostly in favor of the ads. According to a third party media monitoring service report from August 2016 to November 2016, Sanderson Farms was mentioned fewer than 1,000 times in conjunction with antibiotics. Of those social posts, less than 10 percent show definitive displeasure or outrage toward Sanderson Farms’ antibiotic stance, while greater than 60 percent displayed positive reactions, mostly involving the New York Times article.

During this same time period, the total “likes” on the official Sanderson Farms Facebook page increased rapidly by 6,564. The total reach and engagement on Facebook with posts concerning the antibiotics campaign also showed growth. According to Facebook analytics, the number of people per antibiotic post reached ranges from 4,451 to over 2.2 million. Thus, it is clear that Sanderson Farms successfully raised public awareness surrounding its stance on antibiotics through digital and social media channels.

Much to the dismay of advocacy groups, the Sanderson Farms campaign was also well-received from a business and consumer confidence standpoint. Stock prices show financial institutions were unmoved by Sanderson Farms’ antibiotics campaign.

Though others in the industry may be focused on misleading marketing gimmicks to increase profit margins, Sanderson Farms’ number one priority has and always will be providing its consumers with safe, wholesome, high-quality chicken to feed their families. As long as scientific research indicates that antibiotics are safe and healthy, the company will continue to make the right decision when it comes to how it raises chickens.