It was much heralded when Tyson Meats came out with a line of “chicken raised without antibiotics” last year. Pay very close attention to the wording of the claim. Americans, led by doctors who see increasing cases of antibiotic resistance in human patients, have become more aware of the importance of not ingesting antibiotics as a course of daily life, thus the press release from Tyson announcing the new line of chicken.
Now, Tyson’s biggest competitors have taken Tyson to court. First, for labeling their chicken “raised without antibiotics” because it infers that other chicken is not as good. There have been a number of cases of “food disparagement” mainly against organic or natural food companies whose mainline competitors claim that making a statement that milk is free of rBSt or free of antibiotics disparages other foods and the courts have been sympathetic and ruled against the labels. The organic meat company I had the privilege of serving on the board of directors ran into this when a few years ago we wanted to test every beef animal for BSE at the company’s cost and put on the label “each animal tested for BSE,” but that would have been big trouble because it implies that other meat is not safe. The USDA forbid us in this case.
I always thought that this was a law aimed directly at small and organic companies from the big food corporations. After all, virtually any marketing claim implies that one product is better than another. Take Campbell’s Soup “Mm-Mm Good” – doesn’t that imply that other soups are not good? Or doesn’t “Good to the Last Drop” imply that other coffees beside Maxwell house are not good to the last drop.? Or perhaps closer to Tyson’s case is that “Finger Lickin’ Good” KFC chicken claim means that other chicken isn’t. I think you probably get my point.
The only difference with the latest Tyson case was that it was a big company suing another company for food disparagement. Tyson’s main competitors Smithfield and Perdue have lost $10’s of millions to Tyson as a result of consumers running to Tyson’s new “raised without antibiotics” label. In the course of the lawsuit this bit of Pulitzer-quality deceptive language came out of Tyson’s regarding their “raised without antibiotics claim:”
Then during trial in federal court in Baltimore, Tyson officials acknowledged they also inject eggs several days before they hatch with antibiotics that are approved for use in humans. Dave Hogberg, Tyson’s senior vice president for consumer products, said it is a common industry practice.
Hogberg said injecting eggs with antibiotics did not undermine the “raised without antibiotic” label because the term “raised” is understood to cover the period that begins with hatching.
More consumers are becoming concerned about the use of antibiotics in poultry, swine and cattle because they and many public health experts think that it contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant viruses in humans.
So, watch the language carefully – injecting the eggs with an anti-biotic bath means “raised without antibiotics!”