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US: Tyson Pulls Antibiotic-Free Label


Claim on Packages Of Chicken Products
Stirred Discord


by  LAUREN ETTERWall Street Journal
June 3rd, 2008

 

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

 





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