Last week, Tyson Foods made the announcement that it’s “striving to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from its US broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017”. I snickered to myself after reading this and thought, what’s the catch?
Researching this big announcement took me firstly to Tyson’s website for the official announcement and found that the company does indeed say that “it is “”striving”” to eliminate the use of “”human antibiotics from its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017″”. The company will report annually on its progress, beginning with its fiscal 2015 Sustainability Report. Tyson Foods has already stopped using all antibiotics in its 35 broiler hatcheries, requires a veterinary prescription for antibiotics used on broiler farms and “”has reduced human antibiotics”” used to treat broiler chickens by more than 80 percent since 2011.”
So why the snicker, wondering about what’s the catch, and double quotes in the last paragraph?
Back around 2007, Tyson began a huge advertising and labeling campaign of “raised without antibiotics” on its chicken products and was enthusiastically applauded for it by many. I can remember hearing from some acquaintances about the “big” news and I can also remember me saying that I didn’t believe it for a second.
In June 2008, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Tyson’s use of the raised without antibiotics label. USDA reversed that approval and ordered Tyson to remove the label after finding out that Tyson injected its chickens with antibiotics while still in the egg, before hatching, warning that it could no longer consider the raised without antibiotics label “truthful and accurate”. Tyson admitted that the company used gentamicin which had been used for more than 30 years in the U.S. to treat infections in humans interjecting the belief that rules on labeling describing how chickens are raised typically begin from the second day of life.
According to an AP report, a U.S. District Court Judge had ordered Tyson to stop running any advertisements, setting a May 15, 2008 deadline after Perdue and Sanderson Farms sued, claiming Tysons advertising campaign was misleading. Sanderson Farms claimed a loss of $4 million in and Perdue claimed it lost about $10 million in revenue.
A consumer lawsuit against Tyson followed accusing the company of falsely claiming that its chickens were raised without antibiotics. Tyson settled the lawsuit in 2010. The settlement was capped at $5 million. The consumer payout was based on proof of purchase (a receipt) which would award $50 dollars, those who didn’t have proof of purchase but provided a sworn statement detailing the poultry they bought would receive $10 dollars. Any residual funds after paying consumer claims that were left over the company would donate its products to food banks in lieu of the dollar amount.
“While we believe our company acted appropriately, we also believe it makes sense for us to resolve this legal matter and move on,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said.
While researching this ongoing saga, I found some fairly strong words being used to describe Tyson’s actions. Statements such as “no longer consider the raised without antibiotics label truthful and accurate”, false and misleading, and getting to the heart of the issue – “It is quite clear to this court that it was in Tyson’s financial interest to delay the phase-out period as long as possible,” Judge Richard D. Bennett of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland written opinion referring to Tyson delaying further use of its advertising campaign.
Take the time to go back and read the bold print above and what I’ve double quoted. Tyson’s announcement does not say that the company no longer uses antibiotics.
It’s all in the words folks! It’s the twisting and turning of what the words actually mean and the assumption that consumers read the words and believe them as the gospel truth. Is it any wonder that I snicker and wonder, what’s the catch over Tyson’s newest BIG announcement concerning the use of antibiotics?
Furthermore, $14 million was claimed to have been lost by Tyson’s competitors, just in 1 year. Settling for $5 million with consumers is peanuts. Were any fines levied for not being truthful and accurate, false and misleading, or delaying being so for financial gain? Does anyone keep their household food purchase receipts for 3 years or bother with a sworn statement to a court for $10 dollars? Was Tyson able to write off the value of products donated to Food Banks?