Tyson Foods, the largest chicken producer in the United States, has announced that it will remove the “No Antibiotics Ever” label from certain chicken products by the end of the year, according to media reports.

The Wall Street Journal first reported this development, stating that Tyson will remove the label from specific fresh, frozen, and ready-made chicken products. The company made headlines in 2017 when it announced the elimination of all antibiotics in fresh and frozen chicken products under its brand. This move, along with similar actions taken by other chicken producers and fast-food companies, contributed to a significant reduction in the use of medically important antibiotics in poultry production.

Tyson’s decision to drop the “No Antibiotics Ever” label is driven by the reintroduction of ionophores to chickens’ diets, which cannot be used on products carrying that label. Ionophores are primarily used to control coccidiosis, a parasitic disease commonly found in poultry. 

To address concerns regarding the use of antibiotics, by the end of 2023, Tyson-branded chicken will have a new label, reading, “no antibiotics important to human medicine.” The United States Department of Agriculture and the World Health Organization standards allow for the use of antibiotics that are not crucial to the treatment of human diseases.

This move aims to align with antibiotic stewardship efforts and address the potential threat of antimicrobial resistance to human health.

A reason for concern?
A recent study conducted by researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands analyzed isolates from poultry for the presence of resistance genes and found a correlation between resistance genes for the ionophore salinomycin and resistance genes for medically important antibiotics such as erythromycin, tetracycline, and ampicillin.

The study authors have highlighted the alarming observation that the use of ionophores could drive the transfer and dissemination of other clinically relevant types of antimicrobial resistance by co-selection. These findings question the sustainability of the prophylactic use of ionophores in broiler production. While ionophores are not used in human medicine, their potential impact on antimicrobial resistance merits further research and consideration.

The recent study results raise concerns about the use of ionophores in poultry production and its potential impact on human healthcare. The extent to which ionophore resistance occurs in other Gram-positive bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, remains unknown. Further analysis of human enterococcal isolates will help determine if transmission from the poultry reservoir is occurring and if ionophore use in poultry does indeed impact human health.

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