Hospitals to Serve Antibiotic-Free Chicken

by Wendy Gordon

Does it matter if the chicken you buy for your family is from a farm that uses low doses of antibiotics in its feed? Consider this: Premier Healthcare Alliance recently contracted with Murray’s Chicken of South Fallsburg, NY, to provide affordably priced Certified Humane Raised and Handled chicken to member hospitals and healthcare sites. And that means, no low-dose antibiotics in the chickens’ feed.

If it matters to Premier Healthcare Alliance (which serves more than 2,500 U.S. hospitals and 76,000-plus other healthcare sites), it should matter to you and me.

Healthcare providers are on the front lines of the growing crisis of bacterial resistance. And they’ve been among those calling most loudly for a ban on the sub-therapeutic feeding of antibiotics to healthy livestock. They are seeing an increasing number of infections that are more and more difficult to treat and require longer, more expensive hospital stays, infections that stem from bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. And the results can be fatal.

Take the outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella found in ground turkey made by Cargill, Inc., which as of August 11, 2011 had killed one and infected 107 people in 31 states. The company, having recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey earlier that month, just announced that it is recalling another 185,000 pounds of product that may be contaminated with the identical strain of Salmonella.

With three times more antibiotics going to healthy farm animals than go to sick people—approximately 25 million pounds to animals versus 7 million pounds to humans—and the annual U.S. costs associated with drug-resistant infections estimated to be at $26 billion and climbing—the health community understands that it doesn’t make sense to squander critically important human medicines on healthy animals.

Many hospitals have wanted to buy products from farms that weren’t routinely feeding low doses of antibiotics to their livestock, explained Marie Kulick, sustainable procurement advisor for Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition of hospitals and other providers, “but the increased cost and lack of availability through their mainline distributors have been significant barriers.”

This is why the contract with Murray’s Chicken that Premier Healthcare Alliance negotiated on behalf of all its members is so important: As Kulick told PR Newswire, it means this healthier option is more readily available, and at a better price.

Steve Gold, VP of Marketing and Sales for Murray’s Chicken, says, “We gave them our normal pricing, which we think is pretty fair.” It costs more to raise chickens that meet the Certified Humane Raised & Handled standards, and all of Murray’s Chickens do. “There are a lot of different variables why ABF (antibiotic-free) chickens cost more than commodity chickens,” Mr. Gold said. “We’re antibiotic free. There is much less density in the coops. Our chickens take two weeks longer to grow. The way our chickens are handled on the farm, it’s a slower process. It’s a slower process at the plant level.”

“This is a product that Premier’s base has been asking for. They listen to the customers,” Gold added. Other large food purveyors are doing the same. Just last week the Culver’s restaurant chain announced it is adding a line of premium chicken sandwiches featuring antibiotic-free poultry raised on a vegetarian diet from Springer Mountain Farms, a subsidiary brand of Fieldale Farms. Culver’s follows Chipotle, the national restaurant chain that began serving “naturally raised” meat more than 10 years ago because of “a belief that conditions necessitating copious use of antibiotics contribute to the problem of antimicrobial resistance.”

Murray’s Chickens are also available in supermarkets along with Applegate Farms’ organic and antibiotic-free meat products.

The contract with Premier, according to Mr. Gold, “made a statement that sustainable foods is becoming more mainstream.” Since the announcement, Murray’s has “received many, many phone calls from people interested in sourcing our product,” Gold says, adding, “The end user wants healthier products.”

Let your school, workplace, senior center, or grocery store know what you want. If they wonder why it matters or whether they’ll be able to find antibiotic-free poultry and meat, share this story with them.


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One Response to Hospitals to Serve Antibiotic-Free Chicken

  1. Kathi September 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Soon, the source will become to small for the demand. Isn’t that a fantastic turn-around for our food economy. Sure it sounds like a problem, but the major players in any industry learn to soon adapt to the upcoming changes. As the market grows, so will the availability. Expansion, training of new personnel and new markets entering the field will all lead to availability for covering the ever-burgeoning growth spurt.

    It seems long and hard that several organizations and a few honest people have had to struggle, but “clean” food is catching on again. The general public isn’t dumb enough to believe all the propaganda we are dished out by several dishonest companies and a few government agencies which choose to turn their heads to the difficulties our present day citizens are experiencing on a daily basis.

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