Perdue Foods, the third-largest chicken producer in the country, is setting a high bar for antibiotics preservation on farms, and the public health community is pleased. At a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., the company announced that it has stopped using antibiotics in all of its chicken hatcheries. Chairman Jim Perdue called it “another step along a 12-year journey that helps set standards” in “responsible use of antibiotics in poultry production.” Perdue has not used antibiotics for growth promotion since 2007 and doesn’t use any human antibiotics in any of their feed. The company does use an animal-only antibiotic to control an intestinal parasite and uses antibiotics to treat and control illness in sick flocks. Twelve years ago, all of Perdue’s chickens were exposed to a human-type of antibiotic at some point in their lives, said Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, the company’s senior vice president of Food Safety, Quality and Live Operations. Today, it’s fewer than 5 percent. “When we started hearing from consumers that they were becoming concerned about the amount of antibiotics used to raise chickens that they were buying, we were listening,” Perdue said. “We feel like we’re doing the right thing for the people and for the birds.” Perdue has a no-antibiotics-ever (NAE) product line under the Harvestland brand and organic lines for multiple brands. Stewart-Brown named four actions that have allowed Perdue to lower antibiotics usage by such a large amount: cleaning more effectively and in targeted areas, taking animal byproducts out of the feed, adding things to the feed such as probiotics and prebiotics, and vaccinating hens and chicks more than is typical. “Antibiotics are fantastic things, which is why we’re focused on saving them and preserving their use,” he said. Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t mean that Perdue is done working on antibiotics, he said, but that company officials will continue to evolve the program as they learn new things. “It really is a big deal, and we would love to see the rest of the poultry industry and the food animal industry in general follow suit,” Dr. Gail Hansen, a senior officer for The Pew Charitable Trust’s campaign on human health and industrial farming, told Food Safety News. “It’s something that public health has been asking for, and they figured out a way to make it happen.” In following the antibiotics regulation that has been proposed over the years, Stewart-Brown said that he has “yet to read a proposed piece of legislation since maybe 2008 that we don’t comply to.” He added that, “We believe you don’t need to regulate for us to move on.” “I understand where he’s coming from, but I’m not sure that that’s always how things happen,” Hansen said. Regulation ensures that “everybody knows what the rules are,” and, “in a lot of Europe, until there were regulations, there was a lot of talk, but not a lot of action,” she added. The Center for Food Safety expressed support for Perdue’s decision, but added that the announcement puts pressure “squarely on the shoulders of FDA to ensure all companies are following the recommendations advocated by food safety and public health advocates.” Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW) also applauded the move, stating, “The action in the hatcheries is particularly important as antibiotic use there has been clearly linked to resistance in the treated birds and to resistance in sick humans.” The coalition also encouraged Perdue to “publicly report on the amount and type of antibiotics used in its poultry as a concrete measure of the impact of the policy.” Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that she hopes the company’s “actions foreshadow changes across the industry.”