Due to uncertainty and controversy over product labeling regulations and advertising claims, Tyson Foods Inc., has notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture it is voluntarily withdrawing its Raised Without Antibiotics chicken label. In addition, company officials have asked the USDA to consider initiating a public process to bring more clarity and consistency to labeling and advertising rules involving antibiotic-related product claims and all raising claims in general.
"We still support the idea of marketing chicken raised without antibiotics because we know it's what most consumers want," said Dave Hogberg, senior vice president of consumer products for Tyson Foods. "However, in order to preserve the integrity of our label and our reputation as a premier company in the food industry, we believe there needs to be more specific labeling and advertising protocols developed to ensure the rules are clear and application of the rules is equitable."
In May 2007, USDA approved Tyson's Raised Without Antibiotic chicken label application, which noted Tyson's chicken feed ingredients include commonly-used antimicrobials known as ionophores. However, by fall USDA officials reversed their position saying they made a mistake since some organizations have narrowly classified ionophores as antibiotics, though they are not used in human medicine. In December 2007, the USDA approved a new label and subsequently issued industry guidelines for the claim "Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics That Impact Antibiotic Resistance in Humans." Tyson then moved forward with a change to this claim on its packaging and in advertising.
The initial label, the revised label, as well as all supporting advertising and marketing materials, have become the subject of a lawsuit by two competitors, a petition to USDA by three competitors and a purported class action lawsuit allegedly on behalf of consumers.
The transition away from Tyson's qualified Raised Without Antibiotics product label to a new label with no antibiotic claim will be implemented. Tyson said it has already begun designing and ordering new labeling and packaging materials and will start using them as soon as they arrive. Packages with the new labels, which will not make any reference to antibiotics, should start arriving at stores within the next six weeks, the company said. Some products with the original and qualified labels will continue to be in the marketplace for several months since they are in frozen inventory and have not yet been placed in a retail meat case, the company added.
Tyson said its voluntary withdrawal of the Raised Without Antibiotics label is not expected to result in any major changes in the way Tyson protects the health of its birds. The company does not use antibiotics for the purpose of growth promotion. On those rare occasions when antibiotics are used to treat illness, it is on a prescription basis only to protect bird health and administered under the direction of a veterinarian and according to FDA guidelines.