June 1 (Reuters) - Foster Farms, one of the top U.S. chicken producers, plans to largely eliminate antibiotics used to treat humans from its poultry production, it said on Monday.
The move brings California-based Foster Farms in line with other top chicken producers, including market leader Tyson Foods Inc, that are backing away from using the drugs over concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Privately held Foster Farms is working to end the use of all antibiotics used in human medicine, except in instances where the health of a poultry flock is at risk, and has stopped using antibiotics considered to be critical to human health, according to a statement. Independent auditors will ensure compliance with the company’s plans, it said.
It will continue to use animal-only antibiotics when needed for “conventional” flocks, or those not designated to be antibiotic-free, it said. There have not been any human health concerns raised over animal-only antibiotics.
The debate over the agriculture industry’s longstanding practice of using human antibiotics in livestock production has heated up in recent years. Public health experts and federal regulators have grown increasingly concerned that their use could create a health hazard by spurring the creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in humans.
Tyson has said it plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics in its chicken flocks by September 2017. Its move will help the company meet a deadline outlined by McDonald’s Corp for its U.S. restaurants to gradually stop buying chicken raised with human antibiotics over the next two years.
In 2013, Foster Farms was the 10th largest U.S. poultry producer. It produced 21 million pounds of ready to cook chicken a week, according to industry data. (Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)