CAMBRIDGE, Md., April 21, 2015 – Two major poultry trade organizations today wrapped up an event designed to help the public and the media better understand modern day chicken production.
The three-day Chicken Media Summit hosted by the National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association on Maryland’s Eastern Shore provided high-profile representatives from the poultry industry to answer questions from journalists, bloggers, and dieticians from across the country. NCC spokesman Tom Super said as more and more of the population gets further removed from on-farm experience, events like the summit are an opportunity to explain how changes have improved the poultry industry for the better.
“Videos are great, press releases are great, but they’re not silver bullets for telling our story,” Super said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “We really wanted to show people with their own eyes and smell with their own nose on the farm and in the plant what it is we do and why we do it.”
Attendees took part in a “Farm to Fork” tour, making stops at a hatchery, a chicken farm, and a processing plant that ultimately packages and ships the product seen on grocery store shelves and food service lines. Representatives from trade organizations and from some of the country’s leading chicken companies were on-hand to field questions that arose during the tours and also served as panelists for in-depth discussions on chicken production issues Tuesday morning.
Panel discussions ranged from current news-making topics such as avian influenza and concerns over antibiotic resistance to debunking myths that are commonly projected onto the industry. Antibiotic-related questions were common, and industry representatives worked to inform attendees that some misinformation was causing confusion in the general public.
John Glisson, vice president of research for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, pointed out that the statistic pointing to 80 percent of the antibiotics in the country being directed toward animals fails to account for the sheer number of animals in the country. For example, the current U.S. population is about 318 million people, but USDA estimates there are 9.1 billion broiler chickens in the nation.
Antibiotic use also isn’t as prevalent in the industry as commonly perceived, panelists argued. Jenny Rhodes, a chicken farmer and extension educator in Maryland, said that her operation had switched to antibiotic-free chicken. But even under previous production methods, she said she couldn’t remember an occasion where she decided providing antibiotics to her flock was necessary. However, sickness in animals is something farmers have to deal with, she said, and those illnesses need to be treated.
“You think of these chickens in a chicken house and you think of a city of people,” Rhodes said. “In a city of people, you’re going to have people get sick.”
In many cases, Rhodes said, companies will allow for prescribed antibiotic use in chickens, but those chickens will have to be moved to a different marketing program that doesn’t make antibiotic-free claims. Christine Daugherty, vice president of animal well-being programs and technology for Tyson Foods, added that antibiotic-free claims are part of a management practice and that USDA testing prevents antibiotics from being present in meat that makes it to the marketplace.
Daugherty also pointed out that the industry has deemed several aspects of production non-competitive and will share research with other companies. For example, she said food safety is of upmost importance, so companies are willing to work with each other to ensure the best possible practices become industry standards. Ira Brill, a communications and marketing director for Foster Farms, which recently reduced instances of salmonella detection from 15 percent to 5 percent, said poultry companies are never done with food safety improvements.
“(Food safety) is a process of continuous improvement; you never really get to the end,” Brill said. “
Super said he hopes summit participants will walk away from the event with a better understanding of the industry and appreciation for the transparency of the gathering.
“I think that we opened up our doors and people got the impression that nothing was off limits, we weren’t trying to hide anything and so what people write, what they cover, that’s up to them,” Super said. “We’re proud of what we do and we wanted to show people.”
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