The antibiotic in question, gentamicin, is also used to treat a range of bacterial infections in humans. Cargill said it was “making good on its promise” to reduce antibiotic use across its protein lines.
The company has not used gentamicin for disease prevention in Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook – its two leading brands – since 1 August 2016, although it continues to use the antibiotic as an antiviral.
The new meat products are expected on the market by the start of 2017.
Cargill’s announcement came a day after US meat supplier Tyson Foods revealed its chicken lines would be free of antibiotics by the end of 2017.Both producers are responding to concerns from consumers and investors alike about the threat antibiotic resistance poses to human health.
“Cargill’s decision to stop using gentamicin for disease prevention for its two largest turkey brands is welcome,” said Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor, Compassion in World Farming.
“However its plan to continue using antibiotics for disease control (giving antibiotics to the whole flock when disease is present in part of a flock) is unacceptable if this is done on a regular basis. The regular use of antibiotics for disease control shows that something is wrong with the system. Such use of antibiotics should be replaced by health-orientated farming systems in which good health is achieved through good practice.”
Jan Hood, head of turkey marketing at Cargill, said the move to further reduce its reliance on antibiotics was fuelled by consumer demand for purer chicken and greater transparency in the meat-processing supply chain.
The danger of antibiotic resistance
There is a clear and present danger to public health as routine and prophylactic use of antibiotics in farming could create a situation in which medicines used to treat humans no longer work. Routine operations or treatment of minor infections could become life-threatening. In response to this threat, investors have called on the biggest US restaurants – like McDonald’s and the Wendy’s Company to stop sourcing meat from supplies that use antibiotics.
New products launched
“Eliminating antibiotic use for disease prevention purposes is the next logical step after ending the use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, which we began in 2014,” said Hood.
Cargill has developed a new range of antibiotic-free turkey products under the Honest Turkey brand in response to consumer demand for better-raised birds.
The product range will start with a larger-than-required flock of birds as the business believes a percentage could fall sick, thus require antibiotic use to treat them, making them unusable for its antibiotic-free range.
While the launch is likely to appease customer demand for fewer antibiotics, Cargill continues to defend the prudent use of antibiotics in food production.
“When needed, we believe the judicious use of antibiotics in animal agriculture helps assure a safe food supply,” said John Niemann, president of Cargill’s Wichita-based turkey business.
“At Cargill, we remain committed to exploring fact-based technologies as alternatives to antibiotics, and to the reduced use of shared-class antibiotics when the efficacy of a given technology has been proven effective and economical.”