America's top poultry producers are phasing out dangerous drugs in favor of probiotics and more natural alternatives for their chicken

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
April 29, 2015
Corbis Images

Coming soon to a table near you: antibiotic-free chicken. Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the U.S., just announced they will be phasing out the use of human antibiotics in all of their cluckers by 2017. Tyson's announcement followed those from Pilgrim's Pride and Perdue, the second and third largest poultry suppliers, earlier this month, which said they would be eliminating or drastically reducing antibiotic use as well. Tyson's timeline however, is by far the fastest.

Part of the sudden change of heart by the poultry industry can be attributed to the announcement by McDonald's that they will only serve antibiotic-free chicken by 2019 and Chik-Fil-A's similar proclamation to be drug-free by 2020. (Here's Why McDonald's Decision Should Change the Way You Eat Meat.) But Tyson CEO Donnie Smith said the pressure from the restaurant industry was only one factor-and that they feel the decision is best for their customers' overall health.

Experts have long been concerned about the use of antibiotics in food animals, as it's thought to contribute to the ever-worsening problem of antibiotic resistance diseases in both humans and animals. To make matters worse, many companies use the antibiotics in healthy animals to stave off disease and help them grow faster. While the practice is still legal, more and more companies are looking for non-medical ways to protect their animals.

Tyson says it's looking into using probiotics and plant extract oils to keep their chickens healthy. This may turn out to be not only a more cost-effective method, but perhaps a tastier one too. A 2013 study found that rosemary and basil oils have antimicrobial properties and are as effective at preventing E. Coli infections as traditional antibiotics. A healthier chicken fortified with aromatic herbs? Just show us where to order!