WASHINGTON, April 28, 2015 – Tyson Foods Inc., the country's biggest poultry producer, says it is on track to end the use of human antibiotics in its U.S. chicken production by September 2017.

The company says it has reduced antibiotic usage by 80 percent on broiler farms since 2011 and eliminated the drugs from its hatcheries.

Tyson is separately studying ways to reduce the use of medically important antimicrobials in cattle, hogs and turkeys. The company said it is forming working groups with academic experts and its independent producers will start this summer discussing ways to reduce antibiotic usage.

Donnie Smith, Tyson’s president and CEO, denied the company was responding to market pressure and was instead trying to address the concerns about antibiotic resistance.

“This is not a marketing campaign. This is our doing what we feel is the right and most reasonable response to balancing this global concern about antibiotic resistance with animal welfare,” Smith said.

Tyson owns its broiler chickens but not the cattle, hogs and turkeys it processes and doesn’t know how or to what extent antibiotics are used in their production, Smith said. Reducing antibiotic usage in chickens has required improving their housing and replacing the drugs with prebiotics, probiotics and botanicals, said Bill Hewat, the company’s director of international veterinary and live operations services

The company, which pledged to report annually on its progress in reducing antibiotic usage in broilers, doesn’t have a timeframe for eliminating antibiotic usage in its international production.

Public health advocates praised the company’s announcement.

“We hope that more restaurants and retailers will take advantage of the increased supply and make reduced antibiotic options available to their customers,” said Steve Roach, senior analyst with the advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working.

“While the chicken industry as a whole is making great strides in reducing antibiotic overuse, it begs the question: Why are the turkey, pork and beef industries lagging so far behind?”

A former chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration, Jesse Goodman, said it was “encouraging to see the increasing consciousness both in industry and among consumers that antibiotics are precious resources and should only be used when necessary for the health of animals or people.” Goodman is director of Georgetown University’s Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship.

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The White House last month released a strategy for combatting antibiotic resistance that affirmed the steps the FDA has taken to phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials for growth promotion, through the voluntary cooperation of drugmakers, and to require veterinary oversight of all other uses of the antibiotics.

The plan also called for studying the extent of the problem on farms and laid out plans to accelerate development of new drugs that producers can use more safely.