Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the U.S., announced Tuesday that it would strive to quit using human antibiotics in its chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. The company, based in Springdale, AR, stated that it has already stopped using all antibiotics in its 35 broiler hatcheries, requires a veterinarian’s prescription for antibiotics used on broiler farms, and, since 2011, has reduced by more than 80 percent the human antibiotics it uses to treat broiler chickens (those raised for meat).http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-chickens-cot-image13995122 “Given the progress we’ve already made reducing antibiotics in our broilers, we believe it’s realistic to shoot for zero by the end of our 2017 fiscal year. But we won’t jeopardize animal well-being just to get there. We’ll use the best available treatments to keep our chickens healthy, under veterinary supervision,” said Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. Public health advocates are commending the company for the move, which they say will make a significant impact in efforts to slow the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The move follows an announcement by McDonald’s in March that the company aims to stop serving chicken raised with medically important antibiotics — drugs useful in human medicine — by March 2017. Tyson is a major supplier of chicken to McDonald’s. Tyson’s leadership, however, said their decision was not directly related to the McDonald’s announcement. Also, Tyson said it does not anticipate increasing the costs of its chicken products as a result of the change. Soon after the announcement, health experts and consumer organizations began expressing their approval of the decision. “Everyone in public health and consumer health is pretty excited right now,” said Dr. Gail Hansen, veterinarian and senior officer with the Antibiotic Resistance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, speaking to Food Safety News. Nine billion chickens are slaughtered in the U.S. each year. Each human or animal given antibiotics becomes a vehicle for the creation and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Hansen said. “That’s nine billion fewer chances for the bacteria to become resistant and spread,” she added. Keep Antibiotics Working, an organization dedicated to the elimination of medically important antibiotics from animal agriculture, praised Tyson’s move while urging the company and other meat and poultry producers to extend the policy to beef, pork and turkey. Tyson said it will also be forming working groups to tackle the challenge of removing antibiotics from those animals. In February, Perdue Farms, the third-largest chicken producer in the country, announced that it would no longer use antibiotics in its hatcheries and that it does not use medically important antibiotics on 95 percent of its chickens. With Tyson, the industry leader, taking this new stance against human antibiotics, it puts more pressure on the rest of the industry to follow suit, Hansen said. “The other companies using antibiotics in chickens will probably follow,” she said. “We’d certainly love to have them follow.”