The somewhat surprising move by three of the nation's largest poultry producers– Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms and Foster Farms– to voluntarily stop feeding antibiotics to their flocks raises the stakes for other producers and industries. You can bet these companies will market their products as "fed no antibiotics." Some fast-food chains, including McDonalds, Wendy's and Popeye's already refuse to buy poultry products that receive feed-grade antibiotics.
It's clear that opposition against subtherapeutic antibiotic use in food-producing animals won't go away. This topic seems to find new life on a regular basis, but the gaps between episodes are shortening.
Sweden has banned subtherapeutic antibiotic use in food-producing animals. It appears that Denmark is close behind. That will present a definite challenge for the U.S. pork industry as it competes in the world export market. Denmark is clearly starting down the path of feeding no antibiotics to hogs because there's a marketing advantage to be tapped. In the export market, these kinds of niche marketing offerings can sometimes determine who's in and who's out.
Of course central to this issue is the debate whether antibiotic use in food-producing animals leads to antibiotic resistance in humans. There is still no scientific evidence to support that position. However, science doesn't always rule. The push to blame meat production is an easier mark than the inappropriate and overuse of antibiotics in humans by the medical industry.
Antibiotic resistance is an emotional issue that plays well with the public, and meat and poultry producers will continue to take the heat. When your competitors– whether it's those within or outside of your industry– start using the issue as a marketing tool, it certainly raises the stakes.