Cargill stops using human antibiotic against disease in turkeys

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Chicago | Reuters –– U.S. meat processor Cargill has stopped using an important antibiotic for people to prevent disease in turkeys, the company said Tuesday, the latest food maker to drop the drug amid concerns about the impact on human medicine.

Cargill has not used the drug, gentamicin, to prevent disease in turkeys that supply its two biggest brands, Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms, since Aug. 1, a company statement said.

Cargill said it would continue to use antibiotics to treat sick turkeys and to stop the spread of a disease within flocks that include sick birds.

Veterinary use of antibiotics is legal, but as the number of human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria increases, consumer advocates and public health experts have campaigned to end their routine use in farm animals. About 70 per cent of antibiotics vital for fighting infections in humans are sold for use in meat and dairy production.

Cargill “weighed the desires of our customers and consumers to ensure the long-term effectiveness of antibiotics for people and animals, while also maintaining our commitment to the health of turkeys raised for food,” John Niemann, president of the company’s Kansas-based turkey business, said in the statement.

Cargill rival Tyson Foods, the biggest U.S. meat processor, has said it stopped using gentamicin in its chicken hatcheries in October 2014.

U.S. consumers are increasingly pushing food companies and restaurants to move away from using antibiotics to produce meat as part of a trend toward eating foods considered to be healthier and more natural.

On Tuesday, Yum Brands investors filed a shareholder proposal requesting that the company quickly phase out harmful antibiotic use in its meat supply, taking aim at the practices of the KFC fried chicken chain.

Last week, McDonald’s said it had removed antibiotics that are important to human medicine from its chicken months ahead of schedule.

In March, Cargill said it was trimming the use of antibiotics in its cattle supply.

— Tom Polansek reports on agriculture and ag commodity markets for Reuters from Chicago.

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