Sanderson Farms, Inc.: Request for Report on End Routine Use of Medically Important Antibiotics in Poultry

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The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that antibiotic resistance is a global public health crisis that threatens to overturn many of the medical advances made over the last century. 

Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness due in significant part to reckless overuse in farm animal production. The more that antibiotics are used, the faster that antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolve. If no action is taken, antibiotic resistance could cause 300 million premature deaths and up to $100 trillion in global economic damage by 2050 (Review on Antimicrobial Resistance). 

Over 70% of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for livestock use. Antibiotics are often used to prevent illness caused by unhealthy, stressful conditions on farms, rather than to treat illness.  

Sanderson Farms has publicly stated that “there is not any credible science that leads us to believe we’re causing antibiotic resistance in humans.” This stance ignores the fundamental principle that antibiotic use breeds resistant bacteria, which is recognized by every major medical authority. Sanderson Farms’ position has led to substantial negative press. (e.g. “Poultry Producer Sanderson Farms Stands Its Ground: It’s Proud to Use Antibiotics”, The New York Times, 8/1/16).  

Research has shown that poultry processing workers are 32 times more likely to carry antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria, meaning Sanderson Farms’ current use of antibiotics threatens the health and safety of many of its 11,000 employees.  

Additionally, a recently filed lawsuit alleges that Sanderson Farms’ marketing misleads consumers to believe the company’s chicken is “100% Natural” when U.S. Department of Agriculture testing identified 49 instances in which Sanderson Farms’ contained residues of synthetic drugs. In 11 of these instances, the substance was a medically important antibiotic. 

Sanderson Farms produces roughly 7% of the chicken eaten in the United States; to help protect public health from antibiotic-resistant infections, Sanderson Farms must quickly phase-out the use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention throughout its supply chain. 

Sanderson Farms risks losing market share to companies who have stronger policies in place, such as Perdue Farms; 95% of Perdue’s chickens do not receive any antibiotics. Consumers are increasingly concerned about injudicious antibiotic use, and restaurant brands are making changes to meet the demand: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell prohibit or have committed to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics in chicken; Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread prohibit all routine antibiotic use; Subway and Chick-Fil-A source only chicken raised without any antibiotic use.  

A strong antibiotics policy will prepare Sanderson Farms to comply more effectively with a shifting regulatory landscape. Maryland and California have both passed legislation to ban the routine use of antibiotics in livestock.  

Shareholders request that Sanderson Farms adopt an enterprise-wide policy to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention in its supply chain. Shareholders further request the company publish timetables and measures for implementing this policy.

Resolution Details

Company: Sanderson Farms, Inc.

Lead Filer: 
As You Sow

Year: 2018

Filing Date: 
September 2017

Initiative(s): Antibiotics and Factory Farms

Status: 43.1%

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