Is "antibiotic-free" chicken just baloney?

Feathers, it seems, are rather ruffled in the chicken business.

Sanderson Farms, and the more familiar Perdue Farms, have filed a law suit against Tyson Foods in response to Tyson's ad campaign based on "chicken raised without antibiotics." In response, a federal appeals court has ordered Tyson to dismantle the multi-million dollar ad campaign. Tyson is not happy.

But the ads are misleading. Sanderson and Perdue Farms are particularly concerned that the ads imply Tyson is unique in its practices. But apparently all three poulty suppliers avoid giving antibiotics to their birds.

That does not seem to mean, however, that they don't put antibiotics in chicken feed, or into eggs before chicks hatch. Apparently both are common industry practices.

I certainly side with Sanderson and Perdue here in crying 'foul!'- but I think the story runs deeper than just this case. The food industry seems content to tells us only what is required by law. But we're talking about our food--an intimate part of our lives, every day. I think we really want to know what's going on, and should be told not the minimum government requirement, but the truth.

For instance, while "free range" may evoke images of chickens wandering the landscape and enjoying the view, my understanding is that it only means their coops have a window. That may fulfill government requirements, but I doubt it fulfills most people's expectations. It seriously disappoints mine.

What's in our food has important implications for our health. How our food is raised has important implications for the health of the planet, and the ethical standards we apply to the treatment of our fellow species. If the truth about food industry practices is to be disclosed on a "need to know" basis, my view is that everyone who eats needs to know!

The court action against Tyson suggests that in this case, at least, the authorities agree. But we are apt to be fed the truth about our food supply in unsatisfying tidbits for some time to come. To remedy that, I suggest a hearty helping of food for thought, courtesy of two eye-opening books:

Six Arguments for a Greener Diet, by Michael Jacobson and colleagues at the Center for Science in the Public Interest

The Food Revolution, by John Robbins


Do you know the difference between cage-free and free-roaming when it comes to chicken, or between grass-fed and hormone-free when it comes to beef? How important is this when you pick up a pack of meat at the supermarket? Tell me how you feel about how food is labeled, and what you think should be different.

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