I’m conflicted over Tyson Foods’s decision to sell antibiotic-free chickens. On one hand, anything that increases supply and reduces the costs of chicken that aren’t pumped full of antibiotics is good. Antibiotic-laced chicken farms are breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, bacteria which can enter the food supply or transfer those resistance genes to other populations through anything from dirt on trucks from the farm, or fertilizer produced from the chicken droppings.

On the other hand, Tyson Foods has a horrific labor record. It provides cheap chicken by using every trick in the book to beat back union drives. The consequences for workers are severe. Unions can negotiate processing speeds that workers can manage savely, while nonunionized workers who complain about safety can simply be fired. Workers at Tyson plants are much more likely to be injured on the job than workers in the industry as a whole.
“Tyson always gets rid of workers who protest or who speak up for others,” says a poultry worker at the Tyson plant in Rogers, Arkansas. “When they jumped from thirty-two chickens a minute to forty-two, a lot of people protested. The company came right out and asked who the leaders were. Then they fired them. They told us ‘If you don?t like it, there?s the door. There?s another eight hundred applicants waiting to take your job.'”

I can’t knowingly support a company that acts like that, so I don’t (knowingly) buy Tyson products. But I want to encourage Tyson and its industry in a shift away from antibiotics.

Advise me, oh blogosphere! What is the best way to get antibiotic-free chicken without paying through the nose, and without making workers pay through arm-stumps?


  1. #1 Jeb, FCD
    June 28, 2007

    Put a chicken coop in your back yard.

  2. #2 Shane Brady
    June 28, 2007

    If you’re so concerned about the environment, stop eating chicken, or better yet, meat. You’re very concerned about the plight of the workers, who choose to stay or leave, but don’t mention the horrific lives the chickens have.

  3. #3 paperwight
    June 28, 2007

    I would suggest, without the apparent scorn of your two prior interlocutors, that you locate and patronize a local provider of ethically-raised meat and/or poultry. If that means that you eat less animal protein, then that’s what it means.

  4. #4 Shane Brady
    June 28, 2007

    Perhaps a little bit of scorn, but it always amazes me how people are so concerned with humans (who have arguably free will) but consider animals just a commodity for their bellies.

  5. #5 Paul King
    June 28, 2007

    My suggestion is that you buy antibiotic-free chicken but never from Tyson’s unless there is no alternative supplier. I would suspect that the market for antibiotic free-chicken is more sensitive to buying decisions at this point than the choice between suppliers. If Tyson’s are successful other suppliers can be expected to follow suit – if they are not then other suppliers are likely to be discouraged.

  6. #6 Mike the Mad Biologist
    June 28, 2007

    Kosher chicken. I’m serious. At one point, Empire wasn’t using antibiotics (it’s because they’re gonifs, not because of anything to do with kashrut).

  7. #7 lily
    June 29, 2007

    Mrs. Clark at the farmer’s market in Lawrence – she is a wonderful Mennonite woman who runs a very clean and ethical chicken operation.

    Or Bauman’s (egg producers) I think is starting to sell more chickens thru the Merc.

  8. #8 Dianne L.
    June 29, 2007

    Yes, I suggest you all buy antibiotic free chickens…but wait…chickens get sick too don’t they? Not give them any antibiotics but let their diseases infest them…and then send them to market. Yummmmmy~~~

    By the by, chickens have never been more infected with pathogens in the grocery store than they are today as producers have cut way back on their use of antibiotics. Oh…but wait, organically raised chickens have the MOST salmonella.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  9. #9 Daniel J.
    June 29, 2007

    I’m going with: get yourself a chicken coop.

  10. #10 Josh Rosenau
    June 29, 2007

    I which people would cook their chicken properly, so salmonella wouldn’t be an issue. Chickens in factory-farms are more likely to get sick because they are overcrowded.

  11. #11 Whitebuffalo
    November 9, 2009

    Don’t forget to tell them that the feed those birds are given is just one element away from being a steroid. Tyson does it that way so they so they can grow birds faster and still get them by the FDA.
    Though their bodies are full grown they still have the mind of a chick and can hardly stand up when they are gathered to be slaughtered.

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