Sanderson Farms Receives the Fowl Player of the Year Award 2017

CEO: Joe F. Sanderson

Founded: 1947

Best known for:

  • Their deceptive advertising campaign around antibiotic use in poultry production
  • Disregard for their contribution to the rise and spread of antibiotic resistant superbugs

Recently, FoodDive, an outlet of news and analysis for food industry executives, gave Sanderson Farms the Company of the Year Award. As public health advocates, we wanted to give them our own award. That’s why we’re recognizing Sanderson Farms as 2017’s Fowl Player of the Year. Congratulations, Sanderson Farms, on this less than stellar accomplishment.

As we continue to see warning signs pointing to the potential end of the antibiotic era, many poultry producers and restaurant chains have responded by eliminating the use of medically important drugs altogether or restricting them to only treat sick animals. Sanderson Farms, however, has taken the opposite approach. Not only do they continue to misuse antibiotics, they actively advertise against restricting the use of these precious medicines.

Here’s what we need to be aware of: antibiotic-resistant bacteria can infect people of any age and nationality and we need urgent action from all stakeholders to slow them down. Experts estimate that by 2050, 10 million people worldwide could die each year from drug-resistant infections. To put things into perspective for the executives at Sanderson Farms headquarters in Mississippi, that is roughly equivalent to the populations of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana combined dying every year from infections that we can no longer treat with antibiotics.

The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become because the weak bacteria die and the stronger, drug-resistant bacteria survive, reproduce, and spread. Despite warnings from the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 70% of the antibiotics important to human medicine sold in the U.S. are for use on livestock and poultry.

Even more worrisome than the sheer volume of antibiotics used in meat production is the way they’re used. In many cases, meat producers routinely give the drugs to healthy animals to prevent disease that can be brought on by unsanitary, crowded conditions. The cost of using antibiotics every day is probably less in the short term than the cost of improving production practices to make disease less likely to occur naturally, thus eliminating the need for routine antibiotic use.

Despite the real, and terrifying, thought of going back to a world without antibiotics, Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer of Sanderson Foods, told FoodDive in a recent interview that the company “has raised its broiler chickens with antibiotics for 70 years, and has no plans to change.”

In 2016, Sanderson Farms released a series of ads called the “truth-telling” campaign. These ads promote harmful and deceptive messaging about antibiotics in the poultry industry. The commercials tell consumers that meat raised without antibiotics is a marketing gimmick created by other meat companies to get you to pay more. They try to back up the claim by focusing on the fact that meat doesn’t contain antibiotics, and thus it’s just a marketing gimmick. This is when we knew the company truly deserved our Fowl Player of the Year Award because according to a recently filed lawsuit, their products do contain antibiotic residue. So, the company’s disregard for reigning in antibiotic use is contributing to the main problem (spreading drug-resistant superbugs) AND the very thing they claim to not be true (antibiotic residues are on their chicken).

There are few examples that rival the kind of misinformation and deceptive advertising that Sanderson Farms has concocted to defend and promote its rampant misuse of our life-saving medicines. Some that come to mind include climate denial from the fossil fuel industry and the tobacco industry’s failed attempt to convince people that smoking wasn’t linked to cancer. That’s bad company to be in.

Sanderson’s CEO said they’re targeting the “moveable middle” with their pro-antibiotics advertising campaign. He said that middle demographic will “listen to facts, they’ll listen to reason, and that’s who we’re targeting with these ads.”

Here are some facts and a healthy dose of reason:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in 2015 that concluded, “Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotic agents should be used in food-producing animals only to treat and control infectious diseases and not to promote growth or to prevent disease routinely.”
  • In November 2017 the World Health Organization issued recommendations that specifically called for eliminating the routine use of medically important antibiotics on otherwise healthy animals to prevent disease and promote growth.

As if we need more reason to give Sanderson Farms our Fowl Player of the Year Award, in the interview with FoodDive the company’s CFO revealed that they’re preparing to expand its pro-antibiotic campaign to give consumers, “a more nuanced explanation of antibiotic use in the poultry industry.” AKA, extremely fowl play.

As the Fowl Player of the Year, we don’t expect Sanderson to reform it’s bad antibiotics practices tomorrow. At the very least the company should pull its misleading ad campaign about antibiotic use because it’s irresponsible and unfair to its competitors who have done the right thing in reducing antibiotic use. Meat raised without antibiotics is no hoax, or marketing gimmick — it’s one of our best shots at staving off a world where antibiotics no longer work and common infections kill people.

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Antibiotics Associate at U.S. PIRG

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Shelby Luce

Shelby Luce

Antibiotics Associate at U.S. PIRG

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