Joe Sanderson Jr., CEO of Sanderson Farms, said he does not foresee his company abandoning use of antibiotics in its production of chicken. Sanderson, while speaking recently at the Goldman Sachs Global Staples Forum, offered three reasons why he wants Sanderson Farms to continue to use antibiotics.
1. Animal welfare – Sanderson said he and the company veterinarians have all taken an oath to take care of their chickens. If Sanderson Farms abandons the use of antibiotics, the company is not following that oath, he said.
Sanderson specifically mentioned enteritis, a gut condition in chickens that to date can only be treated through the use of antibiotics. “Nothing [else] can take care of enteritis in the chicken, and nothing is coming in the future. If you don’t [treat the chickens with antibiotics for enteritis], the chicken’s going to die.”
“I cannot imagine having a diagnosis, knowing what’s wrong with them and not taking care of them, any more than I cannot imagine not taking care of a cow or one of my pets,” he said.
2. Sustainability – Eliminating the use of antibiotics is not a good example of sustainable or environmentally responsible agriculture, according to Sanderson.
The poultry company CEO pointed out that raising chickens without the use of antibiotics will require more chicken houses, more electricity, more water and more acres of corn and soybeans. “You’re going to have to grow these chickens longer and use all that to achieve the same market weight,” he said.
Sanderson said it appears not many others in the poultry industry have taken sustainability concerns into account. “If all these people do this, it’s going to take a lot more resources to get these chickens to market,” he said.
3. Food safety – Sanderson said the U.S. poultry industry only needs to look to what has happened in Europe to know that eliminating antibiotics can pose a threat to consumer food safety. With the removal of antibiotics in European poultry came increased microbiology and microorganism loads. “You take antibiotics out, and you’re going to have more Campylobacter, more Salmonella and all that coming into your plant,” Sanderson said.