US: Tyson Pulls Antibiotic-Free Label

Claim on Packages Of Chicken Products Stirred Discord
Publisher Name: 
Wall Street Journal

 

Under pressure from regulators and competitors, Tyson Foods Inc. withdrew its antibiotic-free chicken label awarded by the Agriculture Department barely a year ago.

The company said in a news release late Monday
afternoon that it was "voluntarily" withdrawing the label "due to
uncertainty and controversy over product labeling regulations and
advertising claims."

Dave Hogberg, senior vice president of consumer
products for Tyson, said, "We still support the idea of marketing
chicken raised without antibiotics, because we know it's what most
consumers want. However, in order to preserve the integrity of our
label and our reputation as a premier company in the food industry, we
believe there needs to be more specific labeling and advertising
protocols developed."

Tyson's unexpected move follows months of confusion
surrounding its hot-selling Raised Without Antibiotics chicken, which
the company touted as part of a $70 million advertising campaign
launched last summer. In an investor meeting in February, Tyson Chief
Executive Richard Bond said the antibiotic-free product significantly
boosted Tyson's chicken sales. The company's retailers also were able
to charge a premium for the product, while attracting new consumers.

Tyson says it has begun designing and ordering new
labeling and packaging materials. While the new labels should start
appearing in stores within the next six weeks, products with the
antibiotic-free labels "will continue to be in the marketplace for
several months," the company said.

Soon after the Agriculture Department approved the
label in May 2007, Tyson's competitors cried foul. In September, Tyson
was notified by the agency that it had made a mistake in awarding the
label because Tyson was using ionophores, an antibiotic widely used in
the industry but considered less harmful by some because, generally, it
is administered to animals and not humans. Consumers have become
increasingly concerned that eating meat from animals raised with
antibiotics will adversely affect human antibiotic resistance.

A Compromise Solution

The Agriculture Department demanded that Tyson remove
the label or clarify it. Tyson disputed the finding, but rather than
scrap the label entirely, it worked with the department to devise a new
label -- Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics that impact antibiotic
resistance in humans -- that was unveiled in December.

Two of Tyson's competitors then sued the company,
alleging false and misleading advertising of the
antibiotic-free-labeled product. In April, the court ordered Tyson to
dismantle its TV, radio and newspaper and other non-label
advertisements of the product. Tyson has reserved the right to appeal
that decision.

Around the same time, Sanderson Farms
Inc., Perdue Farms Inc. and Foster Farms petitioned the Agriculture
Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service to revoke the label,
saying it was misleading to consumers and gave Tyson an unfair
advantage. Tyson withdrew the label before the agency could decide.

Last month, Tyson launched a multimillion-dollar TV ad
campaign focused on its line of "fresh" chicken products. The ads will
leverage Tyson's official sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic Team by
sponsoring a contest to recognize America's Gold Medal Mom and awarding
each winner a trip for two to the Summer Games in Beijing.

Write to Lauren Etter at lauren.etter@wsj.com

 

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture
  • 182 Health
  • 208 Regulation