The company’s announcement comes at a time of increased scrutiny over antibiotics in the U.S. meat supply. Antibiotics have traditionally been used in animal feed to fatten up poultry, cattle and livestock. In December, The Food and Drug Administration announced a plan to phase out antibiotics from meat production citing drug resistance fears, pointing out some of the medications are important for treating infectious diseases in humans.
The agency’s proposal is to change labeling on antibiotics that would mean they could only be used with a veterinarian’s approval. However, the proposal is only voluntary, and animal pharmaceutical companies would have to opt in.
“Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort,” FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, Michael Taylor, said at the time.
Chick-fil-A said it is working with suppliers to build up an adequate supply of antibiotic-free chickens for its nearly 1,800 restaurants. It is asking suppliers to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to verify that no antibiotics are administered on the chickens at any point.
Meanwhile, Tassopoulos says that the switch to chickens raised without antibiotics would likely result in higher prices for customers but said the company is working with suppliers to ensure the impact is "minimal."
Chick-fil-A said this shift will require "changes along every point of the supply chain -- from the hatchery to the processing plant." The company's suppliers include Tyson, Purdue and Pilgrim's Pride. Rob Dugas, vice president of Chick-fil-A's supply chain, said that suppliers were not surprised by the request given recent consumer trends. However, he said it would still take them some time to make the necessary changes.