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Chick-fil-A Will Use Antibiotics in Chicken — Here's What It Means

Chick-fil-A announced this week that it is changing its chicken quality standards and no longer using the No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) label on its food.

American fast food company Chick-fil-A, whose menu consists mostly of chicken, is transitioning from using the NAE label on its food to NAIHM — which stands for No Antibiotics Important To Human Medicine.

The company announced the change on its website this week, stating that it will come into effect in the spring of 2024. In other words, right away.

Chick-fil-A explained that while the former label means no antibiotics of any kind were used in raising the animal, NAIHM restricts the use of those antibiotics that are important to human medicine and commonly used to treat people, allowing the use of animal antibiotics only if the animal and those around it were to become sick.

The company added that it serves only “real, white breast meat” with no added fillers, artificial preservatives, or steroids.

Chick-fil-A says it sources its chicken from farms in the U.S., in accordance with its Animal Wellbeing Standards, which are rooted in the internationally recognized Five Freedoms of animal welfare: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal and natural behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.

Chick-fil-A originally announced its pledge to serve antibiotic-free chicken in 2014. In 2016, the company also committed to serving 100% cage-free eggs by 2026.

While the company did not specify its reasoning for the policy change, it may be related to outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), or bird flu, at chicken farms in the United States — which are causing a supply shortage and rising prices.

The human impacts of antibiotics in animals

Using antibiotics in animals raised for consumption is one of the contributors to antibiotic resistance in humans, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes as a major global public health threat.

Increasing resistance to antibiotics means illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics are becoming more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.

“Infections from common antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as Salmonella, can cause more severe health outcomes than infections with bacteria that are not resistant to antibiotics,” the CDC says.

People with resistant infections may be more likely to be hospitalized and have higher medical expenses, take longer to get well, and even potentially die from the infection.

The CDC says food animals can carry bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter and when these animals are given antibiotics, resistant bacteria in their intestines can continue to survive and grow.

Humans can then become contaminated with the antibiotics and resistant bacteria by handling or eating raw or uncooked meat or poultry, coming into contact with food animals or their feces, eating raw fruits and vegetables that came into contact with animal feces in the environment such as through irrigation water or fertilizer, and consuming water that came into contact with animal feces.

Ultimately, the Food and Drug Administration says it’s important that antibiotics are only used when necessary and not excessively under the guise of “preventing” disease.

The FDA has approved antibiotic use in animals for disease treatment for animals that are sick, disease control for a group of animals when some of the animals are sick, and disease prevention for animals that are at risk of becoming sick.

So while antibiotics in animals are one of the causes of increasing antibiotic resistance, Chick-fil-A’s NAIHM policy is still considered to be a responsible way to use antibiotics in animals.

“Antibiotics must be used responsibly in both people and animals to help prevent the development, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria,” the CDC says. “Antibiotics are valuable tools for reducing animal disease and suffering from bacterial infections, but decisions about which antibiotics to use in food animals and how to use them must also be made with consideration of human health and the environmental impact.”


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