Fresh Take: What’s Going On With Antibiotics In Meat?

Food & Drink

Tyson’s back to being Big Pharma’s friend. In a major announcement this week, America’s largest chicken seller revealed it would reverse policy and restart selling chicken raised with antibiotics—the caveat now being that it won’t give its animals any antibiotics usually used while treating sick people.

The move comes six years after Tyson said it would stop using the drugs to promote quicker growth—so that it could help to quell the spread of antibiotic resistance and the threat of a public health crisis. Tyson says the latest science helps its case. Yet a few weeks ago, the Agriculture Department also decided it would take steps to verify labels that claim livestock were raised without antibiotics, as evidence has compounded that points to at least some instances of fraud. Class action lawsuits playing out in the court system—including one against Whole Foods alleging that meat sold as antibiotic-free actually was treated with the drugs—likely also added fuel to the fire.

Giving chickens raised in overcrowded factory farms antibiotics, whether the birds are sick and need them or not, will help Tyson produce bigger and more chickens, quicker. That will boost its bottom line, at a time when Tyson could use the help. Tyson, a publicly traded company whose heir apparent and CFO was arrested for public intoxication last fall, has seen its stock price plunge 40% in the past year. The company’s chicken segment has also been struggling, as the country’s worst avian flu outbreak continues, chicken prices have fallen and price-fixing settlements keep rattling the industry’s top firms. For the first six months of 2023, Tyson’s chicken business was its worst-performing, with an operating margin of negative 2%, compared to 2022 earning 4%.

The food business is big business, and that’s the most important thing to remember. Have a great summer weekend, all!

— Chloe Sorvino, Staff Writer

Order my book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, out now from Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books.

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Field Notes

Taco night, with sliced jalapeño from my terrace garden.

Thanks for reading the 78th edition of Forbes Fresh Take! Let me know what you think. Subscribe to Forbes Fresh Take here.

Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and agriculture as a staff writer on the enterprise team at Forbes. Her book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, published on December 6, 2022, with Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. Her nearly nine years of reporting at Forbes has brought her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s Central Valley, burnt-out national forests logged by a timber billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha and even a chocolate croissant factory designed like a medieval castle in northern France.

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