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:
- 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.
- Animals are treated, the treatments are not recorded and the animals are sold as antibiotic free anyway
- 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.