Tyson Foods Inc., one of the world's largest meat producers, said Tuesday it plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics in its chickens by 2017.
The Springdale, Ark.-based company joins firms including McDonald's Corp., Chick-Fil-A Inc. and poultry rival Perdue Farms in announcing the phase-out or elimination of human antibiotics in the face of growing pressure from consumer groups and regulators.
"Antibiotic resistant infections are a global health concern," Tyson Chief Executive Donnie Smith said in a statement. "We're confident our meat and poultry products are safe, but want to do our part to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so these medicines can continue working when they're needed to treat illness."
In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration issued a voluntary order to livestock and poultry producers to limit their use of antibiotics to induce faster growth in their animals and to treat sick animals. Farms consume about 80% of the nation's antibiotic supply, resulting in the growth of drug-resistant superbugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tyson said it had already taken steps over the years to reduce its use of antibiotics. The company said it has reduced the use of human antibiotics in its broiler chicken flocks, which are used for meat, by more than 80% since 2011. In 2014, Tyson said it eliminated the use of all antibiotics at its 35 broiler chicken hatcheries.
Tyson said it plans to work with industry, academic and government experts to research disease prevention and alternatives to antibiotics for animal treatment. However, the company said it will not "jeopardize animal well-being" to reach its 2017 goal.
Tyson said it will begin the discussions of human antibiotics reductions for its cattle, hog and turkey farms this summer.
"We hope that more restaurants and retailers will take advantage of the increased supply and make reduced antibiotic options available to their customers," said Steve Roach, senior analyst for the advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working.