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Could There Be Ketamine In Your 'Natural' Chicken?

Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the U.S., has gone to considerable effort to convince the public that antibiotics belong in concentrated animal feeding operations’ (CAFO) food production. While other large poultry producers have taken steps to cut down or eliminate antibiotics from their production, Sanderson Farms doubled down with a comedic ad campaign designed to allay the fears of their customers and discredit the scientific consensus about the dangers of antibiotic-resistant disease.
Sanderson Farm’s argument is that antibiotic use in chickens cannot be part of the problem simply because it's been done for decades really sounds like something out of the tobacco industry's playbook. Considering the fact that 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used in agriculture, and the amount of evidence showing agricultural use of antibiotics is driving the drug resistance epidemic, I can only wonder why Sanderson can’t get their facts straight.

Such a flippant attitude about drug resistant disease was destined to ruffle feathers and place a target on their back. Their commercial campaign was based on the premise that “antibiotic free” and similar labeling terminology is nothing more than marketing jargon. It is ironic that they are now being sued for false advertising and using the vague “100% Natural” label on their chicken products. The sad truth is that the term “natural” is currently the very definition of jargon and so loosely defined by the USDA that even chicken nuggets fall under this classification. 

Forbes reports that the false advertising lawsuit is anchored on some very unpleasant facts. Samples taken from multiple Sanderson Farm locations were contaminated with dubious drugs such as ketamine, opioids and a number of banned antibiotics. Ketamine was found in the actual poultry as well, and this raises the possibility that it may be used to sedate the chickens during the transportation or slaughtering process. 

Their practices contrast sharply with an industry that has taken proactive steps to reduce antibiotic use. Perdue, the nation’s fourth largest manufacturer of poultry, started to cut back on antibiotic use in 2002 and has vowed to “largely eliminate” antibiotics used in human medicine by September 2017. The company is even using natural herbs and vitamins to help the chickens stay healthy. They put oregano in the chicken's water and thyme in their feed to supply antioxidants and boost immune function. These practices were openly mocked in a Sanderson Farms commercial designed expressly to convince the consumer that their outmoded and reckless CAFO practices and antibiotic overuse are safe. 

It was inevitable the Sanderson Farm’s stubborn refusal to comply with consumer demands to reduce antibiotics use would come home to roost. Consumers are now better informed about the appalling conditions found at CAFOs and the dangers of drug resistant superbugs. With animals packed into tight quarters, fed unnatural diets and living in filth, disease will inevitably flourish. Without antibiotics, the CAFO model is not sustainable. 

When sorting through "antibiotic free" labels available, it's important to be aware of the "fine print" in some cases. In Perdue's No Antibiotics Ever program, it means just that. However, if the label states only "responsible antibiotic use," "veterinarian-approved antibiotic use," "no antibiotic residue" or "100% natural," antibiotics may have been used in the hatchery while the chick is in the egg.

Even if a product is labeled organic, it could have had antibiotics used in the hatchery. The exception is if it is labeled organic and "raised without antibiotics." In this case, it means no antibiotics were used at any point. Other loopholes include stating "no human antibiotics," but this means other animal antibiotics may be used. Two other claims to be wary of are the "no growth-promoting antibiotics" label and the no "critically important" antibiotics label. 

It also should be noted that although Perdue has made some meaningful changes in antibiotics usage, they're still perpetuating the inhumane and unsustainable CAFO model. The best place to get chicken and eggs is from a local producer, or raise them yourself. If you have to go commercial, definitely avoid companies continuing to use antibiotics, like Sanderson Farms, and support those committed to eliminating their use. 

I strongly encourage you to support the small family farms in your area but it is important to pressure large poultry producers to abandon their dangerous practices. Click here to sign the Organic Consumer Association’s petition and tell Sanderson Farms to stop lying to consumers. Advertising drug-contaminated chicken as “100% Natural” is false advertising and it is time to spread the word about their questionable practices.
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