Antibiotic Resistance, Lifestyle, Public Policy

Panera antibiotic advertisements are terribly misleading

I was a pretty big fan of Panera – until last week.  Their iced coffee can really brighten up my day!  However, earlier this year, they started a promotional campaign that purports that their meat is better because it was raised without antibiotics (antibiotic free = ABF). Besides the fact they insulted farmers by inferring they were lazy in their EZ Chicken campaign (which has since been only partially removed), Panera and many companies may be committing more errors than they realize.

First, they are misleading the public by inferring that most chicken is pumped full of antibiotics. Most meat chickens only live six weeks and don’t need much or any preventive medicine. Laying hens, those who make eggs as shown in the Panera advertisement, are not allowed any human-type antibiotics while laying eggs.

Second, Panera infers that antibiotic free meat somehow tastes better than conventional meat. This is ridiculous, as antibiotics have no taste. More importantly, though, if an animal is treated with antibiotics, treatment must stop in time for the medicine to leave the body.

Third, Panera infers that eating meat that is antibiotic free meat is better for your conscience. It is hard to see how refusing to prevent or treat animal illness can be good for your conscience. As a veterinarian who has taken an oath to prevent animal suffering, I am very concerned about these antibiotic free programs! What happens when animals get sick farms that produce antibiotic free animals is one of the following scenarios:

  1. Animals are treated, usually in the water, as it is hard to give shots or pills to 1,000 birds. These treated animals are then sold at a discounted price because they can’t be sold as antibiotic free, which is more expensive.
  2. Animals are treated, the treatments are not recorded and the animals are sold as antibiotic free anyway
  3. The animals are not treated and they get sick and die.

Maybe Panera is just selling the lucky chickens that don’t get sick.  Where do the unlucky ones go?

Healthy animals make safer food. My research and research by others has proven that pigs and poultry that have suffered from common infections disease are more likely to be contaminated with pathogens such as Campylobacter and Salmonella.  When proper protocols and withdrawal periods are followed, antibiotics used on the farm to prevent disease do not mean antibiotics in your food.


80 thoughts on “Panera antibiotic advertisements are terribly misleading

  1. The article, seems to me, makes the case that Panera Bread serves up only chickens that were healthy their whole life and that chickens that had been sick and treated with antibiotics went to other fast food places which makes me think I would rather eat at Panera Bread. the article also says that chickens are not treated with human type antibiotics but it doesn’t say they don’t receive antibiotics. Also if they are treated in the water then all the chickens are getting treated not just the sick ones.

    Posted by Gary | August 1, 2013, 7:34 pm
    • The problem with Panera claiming (indirectly) that they serve only chickens that have been “healthy” their while lives is that they don’t really know which are healthy and which are sick. On farm, it is difficult to tell which animals are healthy and which are sick. If not given antibiotics, the chickens could have had a subclinical illness (illness with no outward physical symptoms) and end up in the food supply. Animals with subclinical illness are more likely to cause foodborne illness in people (see the research links in the blog). Some farmers give prophylactic antibiotics to avoid this situation. Yes, they may give it in the water. This creates real economic problems for a farm that claims to be raising antibiotic free meat. If say 10% of the barn is sick will give a shot to that portion? Have you tried to catch a thousand chickens?

      I also want to emphasize that just because an animal was given antibiotics when they were alive, does not mean there are antibiotics in your food or that it will increase your resistance to antibiotics. There are strict withdrawal periods for antibiotics that keep them out of the food supply and there are many antibiotics used in animals that are not used in people. This means that even if prophylactic use does increase resistance (which I am not sure it does), it will not affect public health.

      Thank you for your response and keeping up with relevant issues in animal health and food safety!

      Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | August 2, 2013, 11:35 am
      • farmers who are around their chicken or cattle can spot a sick one quite easily. Maybe all humans should, just as a precaution, be put on antibiotics just in case we have a sub-clinical illness after all if it is great for the animal it must be good for us and and could possibly prevent a lot of sickness. I am sure pharmaceutical salesmen would love this. there are strict standards in cows for slaughter but they get caught quite often for positive residue and they are only randomly checked. I am sure they don’t check each individual chicken at the slaughter house. As for catching individual chickens for treatment how do you think they load the chickens for the trucks when they go for slaughter. One at a time! So it can be done. To not do it is lazy or a matter of economics. It is cheaper and easier to treat the whole bunch than to pay employees to treat the individual animals. What I am really trying to say that is there is a better way to raise our food animals than what we are doing!!!

        Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 12:43 pm
      • Isn’t the problem about bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, rather than people?

        Posted by Bart Doorneweert | August 18, 2013, 7:16 am
      • Hi Bart,
        Thanks for your question. There 2 issues really, 1) residues and 2) bacterial resistance
        1. residues are left over antibiotic or other stuff in the meat – BAD DEAL but happens rarely (see my recent blog)
        2. resistance come in many types, but we are concerned about a bacteria which has made someone ill and this bacteria is resistant to the antibiotic used to make them better. This happens for many reasons. A teeny part of it may be due to on-farm antibiotic use.

        Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | August 19, 2013, 4:40 pm
      • Thank you for your answer. However I’m reading things like agriculture using 80% of antibiotics, and the industry not publicizing any data on use.
        I find this really disconcerting and wonder if correlation does imply causation in this instance. Also in light of the food industry’s abysmal credibility regarding preemptive action against luring food scandals.

        Posted by Bart Doorneweert | August 21, 2013, 3:08 pm
      • I take issue with your claim that antibiotics are not passed through to humans. My husband has a sensitivity to antibiotics, its like an allergy, and it flares up when he eats meat that is not antibiotic free.

        Posted by Natalie | October 28, 2013, 1:59 pm
      • I haven’t heard of that happening before and I haven’t seen a scientific basis for a general allergy to antibiotics; however, there can be a slight allergy to penicillin but that is rarely found in meat. I hope your husband does not experience that reaction very often! If you are interested in data on the actual percentage of meat that was shown to have antibiotic residues (which was very minimal) see this blog: . Thanks for your comment and for reading Hurd Health!

        Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | October 29, 2013, 1:39 pm
  2. Exactly! Why would I want to support a company that says sick animals shouldn’t get treated with medicine? Another case of stupid people who don’t fact check before they engage in ‘feel good’ media.

    Posted by T Baker | August 1, 2013, 8:05 pm
    • they are not saying not to use antibiotics on sick animals they are saying the chicken they use in their sandwiches is from chickens not given antibiotics. And as for calling farmers lazy, some are just like in every profession.

      Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 1:48 am
      • They are basically saying not to use antibiotics on sick animals. Hence, the EZ Chicken. They are implying that the usage of antibiotics is the ‘easy’ or ‘lazy’ way out.

        Posted by Lisa | August 2, 2013, 11:40 am
      • “And as for calling farmers lazy, some are just like in every profession.” I have to disagree. Farming isn’t like any other profession. The theoretical lazy farmer would be back in town looking for a day job in one season, because he’d either learn how to work hard or he’d fail. I won’t disagree that some farmers probably do work harder than others, but you just don’t find farmers who fall below average on the hard-working scale. We’re talking about people who’s ‘vacation’ is spent showing cattle at state and county fairs or attending farm equipment shows. If the farmer hits the snooze button, the cows get milked at 3:30 in the morning instead of 3:00. How many lazy people do you know who are getting up at that hour?

        Posted by rightwingspinster | August 5, 2013, 11:31 am
      • farmers are not the only ones that get up early, many people do. I go months sometimeswithout a day off. I don’t go around telling everybody they should be gratefulfor the services I do for them Everybody who works contributes to society, not just farmers. We all need each other and farmers can’t do without us either!! why do farmersthink that their occupation is more important higher value than other occupations.

        Posted by Gary | August 5, 2013, 11:56 am
      • Gary,
        I didn’t say that farmers are the only ones who get up early. I said LAZY people don’t get up that early for work. As for being grateful for the work farmers do, I think we could all do with a little more gratitude towards everyone who does a hard job to make our lives better. I’m not a farmer, by the way. Born and raised in the city and I hardly knew any farmers until I started my current job, but the more of them I meet and interact with, the more certain I become that they are a breed apart. They love what they do, but they work hard. No one makes a living tossing a few cows out in a field and coming back in a year to harvest them. Lots of years they spend 8+ hours a day caring for animals and still don’t make a living. Many farmers work a second full-time job. Like a lot of small business owners, they have to be their own IT department, janitor, mechanic, nurse, bookkeeper and salesman. And while they were quietly doing their jobs, animal rights activists have been painting them as inhumane and unnaturally profit driven. Their weird cousin, organic, has been accusing them of trying to poison the world. Despite the fact that you practically need a business degree, a mechanical engineering degree and a science degree to run a successful farm operation today, farmers are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated by the popular media. And trust me, they’d love nothing better than to focus on doing the best possible job than worrying about what a bunch of wack-jobs are saying about them. Unfortunately, the wack-jobs are really, really loud and farmers have had to choose between becoming vocal advocates for their profession or losing it. Imagine being the generation who lost a family business that goes back to the beginning of civilization. I hope you can see how it wasn’t really a choice.

        Posted by rightwingspinster | August 9, 2013, 11:43 am
    • Well you can’t fix stipid like panera knows agriculture

      Posted by janice smith | August 3, 2013, 8:01 am
  3. @Gary I think you are misunderstanding the article. They are not implying that chickens that had been sick and treated went to other fast food places. What they are stating is that all chicken must be antibiotic free before it is even sold for human consumption. With Panera using fear to confuse these facts in their ads they are implying that the chicken they use has never been treated with an antibiotic, which in itself is not offensive. But they are stating any practices using antibiotics to treat sick animals or to prevent illness is lazy and unhealthy. When in reality if those animals have not received any treatment, they most likely would have had to suffer and die as a result of their illness. All animals have the right not to suffer, and if they are treated with any type of antibiotic, their meat must pass a series of tests and wait a certain amount of time before it is safe for human consumption.

    Posted by Lisa | August 2, 2013, 10:57 am
    • I think you are missing the point. From what I have read they are using the wrong terms they should have said from farms that did not use antibiotics which would guarantee that there is no antibiotic residues in their chicken. I know that the USDA has standards for antibiotic free but you and I know they do not check each individual chicken for residue and so some gets through. As for chickens that got sick and were treated, after they went through the standard withdrawal time were sold to other food service establishments somewhere. This makes me think that I would rather eat a chicken sandwich at Panera Bread. I am all for treating sick animals but not treating the whole bunch because of a few sick ones. That is lazy because it is far easier to just put it in their feed or water and treat the whole flock than to catch and separate the sick ones.

      Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 11:52 am
      • I understand what you are saying. The point is Panera is using confusing labels by saying antibiotic free chicken. It makes consumers automatically assume everything else they have been eating up to this point hasn’t been as good quality as theirs. Many fast food chains use the same chicken as Panera but don’t use this label to scare the consumer and to sell their sandwiches at a higher cost.

        Posted by Lisa | August 2, 2013, 12:01 pm
  4. Thanks to all abov for a CIVIL and informative discussion.

    Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | August 2, 2013, 12:42 pm
  5. Let me try to better explain the question of animal treatment and antibiotic free, as a veterinarian.

    1. All commercial chickens (layers and meat type) are raised in large groups (organic or non). Therefore infectious disease is a challenge, just like in a day care.

    2. If the farmer sees a few sick birds, he knows tomorrow there will be more. So he must do something. He cannot catch all the sick ones and give them a pill (like Panera’s memes infer). Nor is it feasible to give a shot to all the sick ones, even if he knew who was sick, or going to be sick. Therefore he is more likely to put medicine in the water, to save everyone.

    3. However on a farm that is trying to raise and sell high-priced antibiotic free meat to Panera, there is a quandry! Any animal that is sick AND gets treated cannot be sold to Panera, or Chipolte. If he does not do something, there will be many more sick tomorrow and the next day. So maybe he waits a day. Those sick birds from yesterday are likely DEAD today. Now twice as many are sick; does he treat the barn now? What if he waits another day, etc, etc

    If the sick ones are treated in time and recover, then they cannot be sold to Panera, thus my comment about them selling the lucky one. However as a professional who has taken an oath to prevent animal suffering, I am VERY concerned if treatments are delayed and extra animals die in the name of “eating consciously”.

    Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | August 2, 2013, 12:55 pm
    • 1. Key word is commercial. Should all day care providers put the children on preventative antibiotics? 2. Does the chicken rancher that provides Panera bread their chicken separate the sick chickens from the healthy ones? I would bet he does. To that chicken rancher it is feasible because he makes more money from his chickens that are marketed as no antibiotics used. 3. the Chicken Rancher who is selling his chickens for Panera or Chipotle for a higher price probably watches his chickens more carefully and quickly separates the sick chickens from the rest of the flock. Those chickens are probably treated and sold to other companies later just like organic ranchers do with the animals that they had to treat. 4. That means that only the healthiest chickens are used for companies like Panera Bread and Chipotle and when I eat there I can be almost positive that the chicken in my sandwich is the best available in the commercial market.” Eating consciously” could change farming practices over time as farmers would change to meet the consumers interest, Yes, we would have to pay more for our food but would save money in the future with less healthcare costs because our food would become more nutritious anf we would be more healthy. 5. Does antibiotic free mean no residue at all or that it is just below FDA tolerance levels? I don’t know.

      Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 1:47 pm
      • Great questions, Gary.
        I am sure many more people have the same so I will take a stab at them.

        1. Commercial is anyone who sells their produce, so that means everyone Panera uses.
        I was not proposing preventive antibiotics for kids, but meant to share the point about how quickly infectious disease spreads through a group.

        2. Any chicken rancher can only separate the birds which he sees are sick. It might be difficult to separate them all. Even organic producers can have large flocks.

        3. Infectious diseases are invisible, watching more carefully will not help. Also, I don’t think it is a safe assumption that Panera providers watch birds more carefully.

        4. It may be possible that Panera chickens are the most UNHEALTHY, if they got no medicine when they needed it. Recall the ABF farmer does NOT want to treat or prevent illness with medicine. Actually, I have done research on ABF pigs and can tell immediately when they come in the packing plant as they don’t look so good.

        Of course we all have different conscience, but to me it means giving all animals “fair treatment” and not wasting precious resources to produce that fine chicken sandwich

        5. Your raise a VERY good point about the definition of ABF, antibiotic free and organic. Topic for another blog!

        Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | August 2, 2013, 2:03 pm
      • Does not using antibiotics make food more nutritious? Denmark banned AB use, was there any benefit to the overall health of the population?

        Posted by AndrewEatsCows | August 2, 2013, 1:52 pm
      • Thank you Amy. I think that is the answer they are all afraid to give.

        Posted by Gary | August 5, 2013, 12:04 pm
      • Gary, I might should clarify something. NARMS is monitoring for resistance. It is data gathering, basically.

        Residue sampling is different (NRP). It is risk based sampling for chemicals. This could be pesticides, antibiotics, etc. After seeing my comment, I realized that I should have made that more clear. Plants also do internal sampling for residues, in addition to the samples pulled by FSIS.

        Posted by Amy | August 5, 2013, 12:21 pm
    • OK. I’ve sit back and watched this dog and pony show long enough.

      1. Why are you making the assumption (and inferring) that meat from birds not treated sub-therapeutically are high priced? There are a number of alternative commercial lines of poultry that are extremely reasonably priced typically running along the lines of just a few cents per lb more than commodity chicken. Unless you look at loss leader pricing used by grocery stores to draw in customers.

      2. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a large subset of the population concerned over the treatment of sick poultry or livestock. This is just silly and only muddles the debate. Address the real concern, growth promotion and treatment just for the sake of treatment.

      3. It is insulting to infer that farmers who use different housing and production methods are delaying treatment thus increasing animal suffering. Honestly, it is appalling. Maybe you could brush up on your research….Here, I’ll help you.

      Growth Promoting Antibiotics in Food Animal Production: An Economic Analysis


      Fieldale Farms overcomes cost barriers with 100 percent antibiotic-free operations

      4. If the industry has chosen to change in recent years by not using antibiotics for growth promotion because they have now found that it isn’t cost effective, then perhaps the argument of label claims regarding poultry raised without antibiotics should be taken up with USDA instead of restaurants. Afterall, it is USDA that approves these claims in the first place. Maybe the real issue at hand is this label claim is now outdated or maybe it isn’t.

      Agriculture is their own worst enemy. Being stuck in their ways and not loo king at the viability of changing the status quo will be your own downfall. So maybe, instead of brushing off new production methods and degrading them, you could learn about them. You might even find that some of them are more profitable.

      “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

      Posted by Amy | August 2, 2013, 2:45 pm
      • This whole debacle is about the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or continuous low doses of antibiotics in feed and is the entire basis of meat & poultry label claims of “no antibiotics ever” or “raised without antibiotics”. Restaurants use consumer terminology and are not typically bound by USDA regulations to not use consumer terms. “Antibiotic Free” is consumer translation of that claim. Grant it, you won’t find an inspected processor using that terminology because we can’t.

        Which takes me back to my #4. If (and that is a big if) the poultry industry has switched production practices, then perhaps it is the label claim that is now outdated. That issue would need to be taken up with USDA labeling division who approve these claims for poultry processors in the first place.

        But is the claim outdated? It wasn’t that long ago that Perdue and Sanderson sued Tyson for unfair advertising practices. and the court agreed. USDA yanked Tyson’s “raised without antibiotics” label claim approval due to the use of ionophores in feed but then turned around and allowed them to use “raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans”, which I personally find laughable. How’s that for confusing the public?! All hail the labeling division of USDA and the poultry industry. Good grief what a ridiculous claim to allow on a label.

        “It was truly just an error in approving the label,” USDA spokeswoman Amand Eamich said yesterday.

        Tyson is now allowed to say its products are “raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans.” The back-and-forth raised competitors’ attention, but not quickly enough for them to start ad campaigns of their own.

        Now, Perdue and Sanderson want Tyson to remove any “raised without antibiotics” ads still in the marketplace and to throw out the modified claim as well, because a study has shown that consumers can’t tell the difference between the two. The two companies say it’s unfair, misleading and costing them customers.

        It’s an “implied superiority claim,” according to Perdue and Sanderson’s attorney, Randall Miller.

        In an e-mailed statement, Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson called the attempts to thwart the company’s advertising “desperate.”

        “Our competitors are inappropriately trying to use the court to circumvent the regulatory judgment of USDA, which approved the labeling we’re now using,” Mickelson wrote. “The advertising we’re using is completely consistent with the government approved labeling and we believe it is not, as a matter of law, false or misleading.”

        U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett said he plans to issue a written opinion shortly on the motions to dismiss the case and to force Tyson to stop advertising.

        Regardless of his decision, the case could continue on to a jury trial, which could take months, or the parties could choose to end things early.

        If Tyson prevails, Sanderson and Perdue have a backup plan, however: They’ll match Tyson’s advertising.

        “That’s what will happen if we lose,” Miller said.

        I don’t need the spiel about ionophores and how they aren’t used in human medicine. I already know all about that. I’m a processor. I have the lovely task of explaining meat & poultry labeling claims to producers and trying to get them approved through USDA. I get ionophores.

        What I don’t get is why we’re tar ‘n feathering Panera instead of the processors themselves who are seeking these claims and USDA for allowing such claims to begin with?

        Which makes me have to question whether what you say about growth promotion antibiotic use in poultry production is now a thing of the past is accurate. Seems to me, it is still quite prevalent.

        So is the issue at hand really Panera misleading the public? or is it the poultry processing companies trying to one up each other?

        Posted by Amy | August 2, 2013, 4:29 pm
      • Amy

        Thanks for your details comments. Please note, that I have not in anyway mentioned the use of Abx for growth promotion. It is not often used anymore in poultry production. Which is another reason Panera’s advertisements are so misleading.

        All farmers and their vets should be taking all measures possible to prevent disease and minimize antibiotics. Failure to do so would be irresponsible and inconsistent with our oath to protect public health.

        More on this in the future.

        Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | August 2, 2013, 3:42 pm
      • Great reply Amy. I love your last quote. You said it way better than I could. I tell my kids that when someone tells you you can’t do it that way ask yourself why not? Or when they tell you you have to do it a certain way ask yourself why? These questions of ” why or why not ” are how we come up with new ideas. I know a few people who are doing what others said would not work.

        Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 3:19 pm
      • Amy

        Regarding your comments below re: Tyson and Purdue, you are correct. In fact I was Dep Undersecretary for Food Safety in USDA at the time these event occurred. We (USDA) found that every egg from which the baby chicks were about to hatch were injected with an antibiotic, then sold as antibiotic free. Also, most broiler birds are treated with ionophores, which are officially antibiotics, although never used in humans.

        So does antibiotic free really, really mean??

        As you point out, the issue is complex, which makes Panera and the others message so difficult to accept. Of course it is made worse in that farmers felt Panera was calling them “lazy”.

        The use of on-farm antibiotics is a complex regulatory, public health and political issue. Simplistic attempts to gain market share through this issue, by any company, do NO GOOD.

        Posted by Dr. Scott Hurd | August 2, 2013, 4:43 pm
      • Now see, that we can agree on. I have a hard time blaming a restaurant (other than the lazy part…that was incredibly stupid on their part) for using the claims of their suppliers…albeit using the consumer language rather than the regulatory language that obviously both you and I know.

        Posted by Amy | August 2, 2013, 4:54 pm
      • Maybe lazy is the correct word because it does take a lot more work to raise healthy birds without antibiotics. Using them as preventatives is the easy and cheaper way. There I said it . Like it or lump it. I am sure the companies that sell the antibiotics go to great lengths to show how scientific it is and if you are a large producer they will even pay your way to nice resorts to listen to their crap. I see it happen all the time. There has to be a better way. Way to go Amy, I felt like I was at my favorite teams game cheering them on to victory.

        Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 6:48 pm
      • At the very least, it seems, with a lil targeting prodding we’ve been able to establish that

        #1 This is a much more complex issue than the original blog post made it out to be, thus does nothing to help farmers understand the entire meat system they are involved in. Which, I might add, includes all links in the chain…including poultry processors who seek out and obtain these marketing claims and restaurants who utilize them; both for a marketing edge.

        #2 The statement regarding “don’t need much or any preventive medicine” isn’t factual as admitted by “most broiler birds are treated with ionophores” which anyone who is entwined in the meat & poultry industry should know to begin with.

        #3. The “lazy” references at this point are completely moot as the vast majority of the opposers (and this blog post) has put the emphasis on antibiotic usage thus making that the issue.

        #4 No one has addressed publicly my question that still stands…Is the issue at hand really Panera (and I don’t agree that it is) or is it the poultry processing companies trying to one up each other?

        Which leads me to my next question. How is Panera misleading the public now? Wasn’t that the initial intention of this post?

        We’ve established that antibiotic usage is prevalent in broiler production through Tyson injecting eggs just days before hatching with human antibiotics and birds being treated with continuous low dosage antibiotics (ionophores) as common practice. Is that disputable or am I missing something? Has this changed? I would like to know if that is the case. Because if it is, then this debacle should go back to the label claim itself approved by USDA being outdated and needs to change with farming practices. I won’t believe this to be the case until shown otherwise.

        Here’s a great read if you’re interested. Particularly the “Selective Statements of Fact” where it would seem that Tyson shot itself in the foot (along just about every other processor in the country including myself) by admitting that:
        Tyson admits ionophores create resistant bacteria. 4/9/08 Tr. 19-20. and
        Tyson admits that ionophore-resistant bacteria may multiply, transfer, and spread from chickens to humans. 4/9/08 Tr. 21-22 <—which I find fascinating! Definitely worth a read considering everything that I have come to know and been told has emphatically said that ionophores pose no human health risk and are excluded from the resistant debate. Up until now, I believed this to be true. As was the case with fluoroquinolones in animals, which were widely held by experts as having no impact on human antibiotic resistance until later found otherwise and then removed from use by FDA.

        We've established that the issue is with antibiotics for growth promotion rather than treatment of sick poultry as that is the entire basis of the (USDA approved) label marketing claim their supplier presumptively uses and Panera utilizes in their marketing as "antibiotic free".

        As for tasting better, don't we all claim our product is better than the others? I mean, honestly, if you don't think your meat/poultry is the best then what are you even doing trying to convince me to buy it?

        The inference that poultry raised in an alternative method to the status quo is somehow less healthy doesn't even warrant a discussion. This is ludicrous. I do processing for a very large company that does not use antibiotics (ionophores or any other type). They do treat livestock in the event of illness, as I would expect any responsible farmer or company to do. Their livestock and carcasses are by far the most healthy critters we encounter. Not once has a carcass or any of its parts (including the most common being liver) been condemned or suspect in the 8 years I've worked with them.

        Is Panera's "antibiotic free" claim really that deceptive? Under the assumption that they are using a supplier that has an approved label claim of "No Antibiotics Ever" or "Raised Without Antibiotics", couldn't one infer that the meat from these birds would more likely than not be antibiotic free? Considering that the claim itself is supposed to inform the public that the poultry did not receive antibiotics in their feed, water, or injection including ionophores throughout the duration of the animal's life? Perhaps they use one of Perdue's USDA Process Verified brands?

        It's possible even probable, is it not? And don't even bother with that…oh those poor suffering birds not getting treatment stance. Meat & Poultry processors have several brands under their belts. These brands are broken up to fit different market segments with varying quality attributes. The treated birds are moved under a different brand name.

        The point of my rambling is to show that this whole Panera thing is anything but simple. If we're going to have a discussion on Panera and antibiotic free marketing claims, then let's have it based on all the facts (even the uncomfortable ones), not just the cherry picked ones for the cheerleaders.

        And what about the farmers/producers growing these chickens for the brand purchased by Panera? Are we not attacking them indirectly for well…farming their way? Is this a double standard? You can't be a real farmer unless you farm the way I think you should because all other ways are just wrong? Because I said so?

        Posted by Amy | August 3, 2013, 11:25 am
      • Amy, you’ve implied that farmers don’t understand all the links in the chain, and it’s clear that you don’t either. I cant speak for chickens but from a beef health perspective, I need ionophores. They prevent bloats, liver abscesses, and coccidiosis. Without rumensin, the number of bloats I’d lose would be astronomical. I can’t have eyes on my cows every minute of every day (even farmers have to sleep) so I need something to help with that. As far as livers, the ionophores prevents rumen acidosis and in turn, liver abscesses. These abscesses can “grow” through the diaphragm and into the lungs, causing posterior vena caval thrombosis, which is usually fatal. And coccidiosis, they go off feed, drop huge amounts of weight, and even when treatment works, they’re never 100% after. I guess what I’m getting at is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is something every producer can attest to.

        As far as ionophore resistant bacteria, your argument is moot. Ionophores aren’t approved for human use. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I’d much rather have a bug resistant to antibiotics that are for vet use only, as opposed to one used in human medicine. If you have any suggestions on how to prevent these conditions without rumensin I’d love to hear them.

        Posted by AndrewEatsCows | August 3, 2013, 10:08 pm
      • AndrewEatsCows

        I wasn’t implying that farmers don’t understand all links in the chain. I meant that farmers don’t understand all links in the chain. I raise cattle. Have a cow-calf operation, do backgrounding, and finish cattle for slaughter. I have no problem with you or anyone else utilizing ionophores. I don’t use them. I don’t need them. I won’t buy cattle from farmers who do use them. If you need them, then by all means use them.

        To imply that a farmer who doesn’t need them is somehow not doing it right, is the problem. We don’t have these issues you talk about. Liver abscesses are few and far between in my slaughter plant from any cattle I do, whether ionophore production or not. My point being, others are raising them just fine without them. That doesn’t mean they are any less of a farmer than you or others who use them. That doesn’t mean their cattle are suffering. Trying to tell a slaughterman about the insides of cattle is silly. I see carcasses and inspect their organs everyday.

        I had no intention of arguing ionophore resistant bacteria and did not mean to imply that I was. It was news to me. It is interesting that this would be something that is admitted under oath and I would like further information on it. If you have further information on it, I would love that.

        Posted by Amy | August 4, 2013, 1:41 pm
      • While you’re brushing up on your research there, Amy, I hope you’ll take a minute to read some honest critiques of some of the work you’re building your case on, which challenges your preconceptions, including:
        * That shambles of economic nonsense from Johns Hopkins you cite:
        * The legitimate questions being raised by veterinarians about your point 3:, which include these references:
        Both of which raise that very concern you so easily dismiss as insulting.

        Posted by Mike Smith | August 3, 2013, 11:40 am
      • Mike

        Thank you. I will check them out. If you’re referring to farmers who raise/grow livestock without subtherapeutic antibiotics, then I’m afraid we’ll never come to an agreement on that. We’ve been slaughtering & processing livestock for 5 generations. I’ve seen just about every production method imaginable. The vast majority of farmers are responsible and care for their animals well being. It only makes sense to do so. That includes those that use alternative housing and production methods to the status quo. All of them. Regardless.

        Posted by Amy | August 4, 2013, 1:55 pm
      • Andrew, The reason for most of your heard digestive problems is that they are fed a diet that cows were not created to eat. That is why you Have to treat your cows as you do. You know full well cows were designed to graze on forages. Stuffing them full of silage and grain is what causes acidosis and is why they need buffers. Your whole system is against nature. And that is why your system needs antibiotics. Have you ever had any of your cows sent to slaughter test positive for drug residue? Do they test every single cow? Amy, maybe you can answer that because you would probably be the one who knows. Also can anyone here give me an answer about antibiotic free and if that means absolutely nothing detectable at all or does it just mean below an acceptable level?.Mike, two of your articles are from Alpharma Inc. Don’t you think a pharmaceutical company Veterinary might be a little biased. Maybe Dr Scott Hurd can answer the question about the definition of antibiotic free. It should be a simple answer. It either means absolutely zero or just below approved levels considered safe by the FDA or USDA. Which one is it ?

        Posted by Gary | August 4, 2013, 2:22 am
      • Gary,
        No. Every animals is absolutely not tested for ab residue. It is risk based. Cull cows and veal calves are more prone to positives, thus they are tested more frequently but still are not testing 100% of the time. Not where near that, quite infrequently really. There have been some changes to NARMS (National Antimicrobial Monitoring System) recently after it got a thumbs down from OIG audit. My plant is tested once per month specifically under NARMS but we’re a market plant (meaning we mainly do market age animals with only a handful of culls). You can see some of the new frequencies here under this FSIS NOTICE

        Here’s the real deal on “antibiotic free”. Antibiotic free is a common consumer translation of other label claims. No processor/packer could ever be approved to use antibiotic free as a label claim for an animal growing claim. Keep in mind that restaurants/foodservice/retail etc… are not seeking label claims. They are using the claims of their suppliers. They will translate those claims to consumer language…and they can. Nothing says they can’t.

        The most common label claims are “Raised Without Antibiotics” or the never ever program…”No antibiotics ever” claim. These are supposed to mean that the animal did not receive any antibiotics in their feed, water or by injection including ionophores from birth to slaughter. The process to get the claims approved is interesting and could be a subject of a blog post in and of itself.

        As an aside, should any one reading this ever have the notion to start up their own USDA inspected slaughter/processing/packing plant I’d advise you take some debate classes. Those skills will come in handy. :)

        If anyone is interested in learning the process of label claims, here’s a starting point

        This, by no means, covers all the intricacies of this process.

        Then there is the “Naturally Raised” claim that is related to the above claims. This one means the animals were raised without growth promotants, antibiotics (with some exceptions). They are allowed dewormers for parasitic control, vaccinations, probiotics, and ionophores at coccidiostat levels. You can read that one here:

        and here

        I have seen approvals for one (and other similar wording) that is terribly misleading (IMHO) and basically is a means for processors or brands to one up each other. That one is “No detectable antibiotic residues” or a variation on that wordage. This one is ridiculous and absolutely does mislead the public. This one addresses the residues, not the giving of the antibiotics to the animal itself.

        As for all these comments I’ve seen floating around about all meat is antibiotic free because USDA doesn’t allow residues, hog wash. Of course they don’t “allow” residues but there’s no means of verification that ALL meat or poultry in every grocery store in America is free of residues. This is not enforceable.

        Posted by Amy | August 4, 2013, 2:42 pm
      • Thanks Amy. I think that is the answer nobody but you would give. I already knew the answer, but needed someone else like you who could express it better.

        Posted by Gary | August 5, 2013, 1:12 pm
  6. Gary,
    Spotting sick animals is not as easy as one would think. I’ve been around cattle my whole life and from experience have learned that animals typically won’t show obvious signs of illness until the pneumonia has progressed to the severe or chronic stage. These are prey animals and it is their instinct to be incredibly stoic and hide signs of illness. By mass medicating these animals at strategic times, we stand a much better chance of treating illness in the early stages and avoiding the use of antibiotics used in people.

    Posted by AndrewEatsCows | August 2, 2013, 1:33 pm
    • Andreweatscows, I just read your blog about antibiotic use and It pretty much matches how I did it and also many large dairies I am familiar with. It makes my point that the farmer or employee that has a trained eye it is not difficult to spot sick animals if you are looking for them and to separate them out from the healthy ones.

      Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 2:17 pm
      • if mass medication is so good at preventing illnesses in the herd then you shouldn’t need pen riders. Like I said in earlier posts maybe this method should be used on humans if it can prevent sickness. The logic of this thinking of mass treatment would end up there. Maybe that is why they always want to put things in our food and water. Crazy way of thinking, no thank you from me.

        Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 3:31 pm
      • I understand your point Gary and between you me and the fence post, it would be great if mass medication wasn’t necessary. Unfortunately, that’s not an option at this point in time if we want to produce the amount of protein we need to. What would be great to see would be drug companies putting more money into upgraded vaccines. This would be one way realistic way of reducing antibiotic use.

        Posted by AndrewEatsCows | August 2, 2013, 4:20 pm
      • On a normal pen of animals that way works fine, but even I’ll admit we still miss sick cattle. I guess what I’m trying to get at is we aren’t nearly as skilled at detection of sick animals as we’d like to think we are. If we wait until an animal shows overt clinical signs to medicate it, chances are it will already have lost 15-20% of its lung function. In an animal that can be likened to a car with four engines and one radiator, this is an extremely significant loss. It sets that animal up for relapses, poor performance, and AIP episodes down the road. All of this can be prevented with mass medication early in the feeding period

        Posted by AndrewEatsCows | August 2, 2013, 2:28 pm
      • Well Andrew if you ever start a second operation maybe you can do that one differently and one at a time the system can be changed one at a time and in fact is already being done. Start soon or you will be left behind. Read about someone like Joel Salatin and The truly hard working and conscientious will go where others do not dare. Your type of farming is like the wild west where the people stayed in the fort because they were afraid of what waited them if they ventured to far from the fort. The brave ones went out and settled the west because they dared. Start to research better ways and soon you will wonder why you did not see these ways before. It can be changed.

        Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 7:10 pm
      • I’ll keep that in mind when I go back to the ranch Gary. Have a good

        Posted by AndrewEatsCows | August 2, 2013, 7:25 pm
      • Andrew, Have you ever sent an animal to slaughter that showed positive for drug residues or anyone else you know in the industry. I know a few that have and I bet you do too! Does every single cow get checked? Just answer the questions with a simple answer unless you are scared to. Be honest.

        Posted by Gary | August 4, 2013, 1:57 pm
      • Have never had or known anyone with drug residue issues. All treatments are tracked through the computer program and any cattle coming from buller or convalescing pens are run through the chute and checked. We use treatment tags to help us identify cattle when an issue may arise.

        Posted by AndrewEatsCows | August 4, 2013, 6:10 pm
    • My whole life has been around cattle. I was born and raised on a dairy. I was a Herdsman on a large dairy and it was not hard to spot cows that were sick for the trained eye. I am not against antibiotics and I am not an animal rights activist and I am not a vegetarian. I would love animal agriculture to go back to more natural and normal ways of production. We would all be better off. I think if commercial farmers looked deep into their hearts they know the way they are doing it is not the best way. Their are many farmers and ranchers around the U.S. who are changing their methods and are becoming more and more prosperous. Look up Joel Salatin He is just one example of many but a very good one!

      Posted by Gary | August 2, 2013, 2:02 pm
  7. The perspective, “once treated with antibiotics, always contain antibiotics.” To me that is the same as saying “I sat on an airplane seat next to a guy who was a hippie in the 60s, and I was afraid I was going to get stoned.” Medicine — and I’m assuming illegal drugs, really not an expert here — pass through an animal and human system in their designated withdrawal period.

    Posted by Tamara Choat | August 2, 2013, 4:39 pm
  8. Reblogged this on Slow Money Food and commented:
    Our sister blog at SlowMoneyFarm had a recent post about lazy farmers, but this covers the claims many make about meats and how it affects the food supply. Worth a read!

    Posted by SlowMoneyFarm | August 3, 2013, 7:58 am
  9. This story bashes people’s beliefs. For example, if someone believes antibiotic-free meat tastes different, then who cares? Let them believe what they want. If people believe USDA organic food tastes better, who cares? I laugh at these zealous, dare I say farmer-rights extremists, and other members of ag media. They claim things then become what they say their fighting against.

    Also, if someone posts information that bashes people’s beliefs, then who cares? Let them post that stuff. Social media 4 life!

    Posted by anthonypannone | August 3, 2013, 10:04 am
  10. I’ve read this exhaustive comment thread of rediculously repetitive antibiotic mistruths to find some key points missing I find extremely important as not only an animal breeder and schooled Animal Scientist but more so as an Ag Economist
    1. We’ve got a growing narcistic view of food production. The idea that food not perceived to be good enough for me is somehow good enough to feed others is abhorable. I eat exactly the same product I provide to the market. Proud to do so.
    2. We produce a lot of beef from areas of the country which are basically landscape good for nothing else. We use CTC in our mineral to combat Anaplasmosis. That’s a condition Mother Nature throws are way in this area which flat out kills cows. How else do we combat it? We provide antibiotic treatment for Pinkeye. It’s a longways from the edible product but have you ever tried to manage blind cattle. They get pretty wild and decline into an unproductive state. We treat foot rot with antibiotics. Another example of an affliction related to Mother Nature and highly curable to keep that cow in production. Why is that (as well as Anaplasmosis) important? It takes THREE years to produce replacement cows, conception to calving. One of the most important farm/ranch profitability issues is “stability” of the cow in the herd. What we can do to enhance that ultimately puts more food into the market, keeping it more affordable.
    3. Ad campaigns like Panera has should be consider libel. The organic craze may seem to be a religion with some but it is not. With the growing pile of credible research disproving claims made by organic “believers”, we are past debating ideas, but arguing facts vs. fiction. I applaud the careful nature of “conventional” producers as a whole for all agreeing that the Market is efficient and that “they have the right to sell their products as we.” But there are rules to the advertising game.
    4. In my career, the big majority of the non-conventional producers I come across and assist occasionally are not receiving a rewarding premium for their product. Most of them have other income and their production practice is actually a lifestyle choice that actually just doesn’t need to lose money so it can remain a viable business to the IRS. I’ve worked with veggie growers that could easily double their production but can’t because of input restrictions like fertilizer and pesticides that actually work and lengthen their growing season, again putting more food in the market making it all cheaper.
    5. And Doc, I want to add an adjustment to the doctoring of animals statement you have. My experience producers actually will treat animals, and they will probably get better, but the research shows that these animals usually fail to produce as much meat, and things like Marbling in beef cattle will suffer, because we probably just waited to long HOPING against reality that they would “just get better without it.”
    So, I’ll get off MY rant as an earlier commentor stated b/c the facts are really quite clear for “conventional” food production. What I have found in my experience “Agvocating” for conventional Ag is that the noisy organic believers will not listen to reason. But rest assured, I’m talking to the consumer telling my story also and they are really pretty rational when they pull out their wallets at the grocery cashier.

    Posted by Will Cubbage | August 9, 2013, 11:37 am
    • Wii, I agree and Thank you for saying it!

      Posted by Barbara C Roberts | August 9, 2013, 2:22 pm
    • Will Cubbage, I have come to believe that someone like you has been brainwashed by supposed “Scientific” ways of thinking and will never listen to reason. Your religious scientific beliefs have been taught in the Universities who get large grants from “Big Ag” companies who persuade future farmers that it is their way or the highway. If equal funding went for true studies of organic principles in the Universities the brainwashing would soon come to an end. How much have you studied organic, natural ways of farming or are you just spouting off what you have been taught about organic farming methods. The “gods” of “Big Ag” have spoken and you have followed and obeyed them like true believers. As far as “non-conventional” farms relying on outside income to make it I know of more than one conventional farmer doing likewise, and many of them are going broke at least on the dairy side of farming. I know several Organic dairymen who are doing extremely well. some are getting up to $15 for a gallon of milk. Some of them are only grazing grass and no grain or very little grain which would be against conventional ways of thinking. “Organic believers” do what they do because it is the best for the earth that we are to be stewards of and better for the health of those that they feed with their products. I guess God forgot to supply us with the needed natural methods of farming so we in our Scientific thinking could come up with chemical farming. Also God must have forgotten to insert the correct genes in the plant DNA so we came up with genetically modified seeds. Praise the “god of Big Ag” for showing us the smarter way to farm. Maybe you need to open your eyes!! By the way I am not against big business just corrupt big business.

      Posted by Gary | August 10, 2013, 6:27 pm
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