Chick-fil-A going antibiotic free in 5 years

5:23 PM, Feb 13, 2014   |    comments
A customer comes out from a Chick-fil-A in Springfield, Va. (Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
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(USA Today)-- Here's a chicken that has surprisingly crossed the road - away from antibiotics.

Chick-fil-A, the nation's largest chicken chain in annual sales, shocked the fast-food world late Tuesday when it announced that the company plans to only sell chicken raised without antibiotics at all of its stores within five years.

The move is yet another signal that Corporate American is increasingly aware of consumers' concerns about the ingredients in and the safety of the foods they eat. The corporate trend towards cleaner food seems to be catching fire. Last week, Subway announced plans to abandon the use of a chemical in its bread. This week, Kraft noted that it will stop putting preservatives into its Kraft Singles cheese.

"This is a huge deal," says Vani Hari, health activist and creator of the website foodbabe.com, of Chick-fil-A's action. "This is the most concerning food issue of our time, because if we can't treat diseases with antibiotics, it has the potential to wipe out the human race." Antibiotics aren't just used to prevent diseases on chickens, but, she says, are typically injected at birth to fatten them up.

SUBWAY: Removing chemical from its bread

KRAFT: Dropping artificial preservatives in Kraft Singles

Chick-fil-A is stepping where few restaurants have stepped before. Yes, familiar names such as Panera, Chipotle and Jason's Deli already have gone in this antibiotic-free direction. But the move by Chick-fil-A could nudge other big names in fast food to take similar actions.

For 67 years the 1,800-store chain has used the highest-quality ingredients, said Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, in a statement. "We want to continue that heritage, and offering antibiotic-free chicken is the next step."

He says that the change will take time because all its national and regional chicken suppliers will have to make the changeover. Suppliers will have to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to verify that the chickens receive no antibiotics at any point.

Chick-fil-A's move also is being applauded by Consumers Union. "Chick-fil-A deserves credit," says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for the advocacy group. "We need to stop wasting these critical medications on healthy livestock."

But the trade group, the National Chicken Council, insists that antibiotics are not always used in chicken production -- and are used to prevent and treat disease. "The science shows that responsible and judicious use of FDA-approved antibiotics to treat and prevent disease in livestock and poultry is both safe and effective," says Ashley Peterson, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

For her part, Hari, the website activist, predicts that within 10 years, it will be normal for fast-food restaurants not to use antibiotics in their meats. At least, she says, "I hope."

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