Chickens raised on antibiotics will slowly be phased out of poultry served at Chick-fil-A restaurants by the year 2019.
The company made the announcement this week in response to questions they say they received from patrons who have voiced health concerns.
“When our customers started asking us about antibiotics in chicken, we began exploring our options,” said the company in a statement. “Our commitment is to serve chicken raised without antibiotics in all Chick-fil-A restaurants, nationwide, within five years.”
The company said that, in partnership with both national and regional poultry suppliers, it is working to create a steady supply of antibiotic-free chicken to sell to consumers.
“We are asking suppliers to work with the USDA to verify that antibiotics are never administered, from the hatchery to the processing plant.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), animals given antibiotics that are also used to fight human diseases aid in building drug resistance in humans. Antibiotics are meant to increase growth and control or prevent disease in animals. The products can be added to water given to the animals or put into feed.
In 2011, about 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for meat and poultry production. By comparison, 7.7 million pounds were sold for human use, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Bacteria evolve to survive threats to their existence,” said an FDA consumer update on the topic Dec. 11. “In both humans and animals, even appropriate therapeutic uses of antibiotics can promote the development of drug resistant bacteria. When such bacteria enter the food supply, they can be transferred to the people who eat food from the treated animal.”
“Illnesses caused by drug-resistant strains of bacteria are more likely to be potentially fatal when the medicines used to treat them are rendered less effective.”
The food merchant’s action marked the beginning of a voluntary phase-out plan for certain antibiotics currently being used in animals meant for human consumption and mirrors efforts by other food preparation firms to rid their products of substances that customers find objectionable.
A growing number of restaurant chains, including Chipotle and Panera Bread, have made commitments to serve meat only from animals raised without antibiotics, according to the recent New York Times article.
Although many Chick-fil-A customers applauded the announcement in comments on the company web site, many want the company to go a step further.
“Is MSG next?” asked Sarah Cunningham.
“What about eliminating high fructose corn syrup?” said Christina Hale.
Many others called for gluten-free foods, free-range chicken with no growth hormones, bread with no additives, and products that were non-GMO.
The first Chick-fil-A restaurant opened in Atlanta in 1967 and today there are over 1,700 locations in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
The privately-held company reported $4.6 billion in system-wide sales for 2012, a 14 percent increase compared to 2011 sales figures.