Tyson Foods To Revise Antibiotics Labels


Tuesday, November 20th 2007, 7:12 am
By: News On 6


Tyson Foods Inc. plans to revise labels that say its fresh chicken is ``raised without antibiotics'' after the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it made a mistake in approving labels that use that term.

The world's largest meat processor said it has been in discussions with the USDA since at least September about the label it introduced this summer in a major marketing campaign for its fresh chicken.

According to a Nov. 6 letter from the USDA, the agency told Tyson it had mistakenly overlooked a feed additive, called ionophores, used for Tyson's chicken when it approved the no-antibiotics label. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has a long-standing policy of classifying ionophores as antibiotics, according to the letter.

But Tyson said Monday that ionophores are not antibiotics and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not consider them antibiotics.

``We stand by the truthfulness of our product labels and remain fully committed to our Raised Without Antibiotics chicken program. We also expect no disruption in service to our customers,'' the Springdale, Ark.-based company said in a statement.

The letter, which was not immediately made public, was reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal. Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, confirmed that the agency told Tyson Foods to remove the label.

``It was a mistake on our part and we are now correcting it,'' she told The Associated Press.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company plans to submit for USDA approval a new label that still says ``raised without antibiotics'' but adds some qualifying language about ionophores.

The USDA has given Tyson a temporary stay of 45 days from Nov. 6 to submit a new label and new arguments, to change its feed formula, or to stop using the label.

Tyson said the additional wording it plans will state that no ingredients have been used that could create antibiotic resistance in humans.

``Ionophores are not used in human medicine and do not contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance to important human drugs. They remain in the intestinal tract of the animal and do not carry over into the meat consumed by humans,'' Tyson's statement said.

The company said ionophores are permitted by the federal government in chicken feed as a preventive measure against coccidiosis, an intestinal illness.

The USDA's Eamich said Tyson could take several steps, such as removing the label, changing the feed formulation or just changing the label's statement in any way so it is accurate and ``not misleading.''

``We're open to any process the company submits, and we will evaluate it with documentation they provide,'' she said.

Tyson announced in June it would no longer use antibiotics to raise chicken that is sold fresh in stores and would promote the new product as part of a $70 million advertising campaign.

Tyson, the country's second largest chicken producer after Pilgrim's Pride Corp., said at the time that fresh chicken makes up less than 10 percent of the company's sales, which also include pork and beef.

A number of other Tyson products, like chicken nuggets and other frozen items, are not sold under the ``Raised Without Antibiotics'' label.