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Sanderson Farms videos depict its 'honest chicken.'

Sanderson stops antibiotics use but lawsuit still active

By JACK WEATHERLY

Sanderson Farms Inc. said it would on March 1 stop using antibiotics in its poultry that are vital to fighting infections in humans.

The Laurel-based firm, the nation’s third-largest poultry producer, has fought a lawsuit brought by consumer groups in June 2017 against use of such antibiotics.

Sanderson is the last major producer to stop using the antibiotics.

It commissioned an independent study that led it to decide that the change “could represent a responsible compromise to better preserve efficacy of antibiotics important for human health,” the company said in a prepared statement, according to Reuters.

But that decision might not be sufficient to end the litigation in federal court.

Sanderson was sued by Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court for Northern California.

An official for the Center for Food Safety was quoted in a publication called Animal Pharm that “Sanderson Farms is taking a good first step toward eliminating the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock production.”

“We hope Sanderson will utilize a third-party certifier to verify these production practices so that consumers can be assured that these chickens are raised without the routine use of antibiotics.”

Mike Cockrell, Sanderson’s Chief Financial and Legal Officer, said in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal tha he had no comment on the Center For Food Safety statement.

Sanderson has long advertised its poultry as “natural.”

However, the term “natural” is not strictly defined or regulated by the government agencies that oversee the public food supply, according to research by The New Food Economy, an independent nonprofit publication.

The publication reported in December that “last year, the plaintiffs in the suit made headlines after they unearthed testing records that revealed the company’s chicken tested positive for residues of drugs like ketamine, and powerful antibiotics like chloramphenicol, which can trigger a deadly form of anemia. The presence of the club drug [ketamine] was a surprise; the point of the data was to show that Sanderson had deceived consumers when it proclaimed, on its website, that ‘there’s only chicken in our chicken,’ and, on TV, that there were ‘no antibiotics to worry about here.’”

“Sanderson said in its defense that when it uses those phrases, it isn’t saying that it doesn’t use antibiotics, but that they must be “cleared of antibiotics before they leave the farm,”

Judge Richard Seeborg rejected that reasoning in denying the company’s motion to dismiss the case.

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About Jack Weatherly