Health

Costco Agrees To Phase Out The Use Of Antibiotics In Its Chicken

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In what could be the beginning of a national trend, another big corporation announced its plans to phase out its sale of food products treated with antibiotics this week.

Executives at Costco, the third largest retailer in the United States, told Reuters on Thursday that they will gradually eliminate the sale of antibiotic-tainted chicken and beef, though they didn’t disclose a target date for the shift. Their decisions follows that of McDonald’s leadership to stop buying chicken treated with antibiotics within two years, news that pleased food safety advocates.

Costco’s offerings, which include meat, produce, deli and bakery items, accounted for 13 percent of its $110 billion in net sales during the 2014 fiscal year. The corporation sells 80 million rotisserie chickens annually. Costco officials said they teamed up with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Center for Voluntary Medicine to carry out their latest endeavor.

“We are working towards, and working with our suppliers and the regulatory agencies… to see how we can get rid of shared-use antibiotics in animals,” Craig Wilson, vice president of food safety at the Issaquah, Washington-based retail giant, told reporters during a phone interview.

Antibiotics — whether administered to people in hospitals or animals raised for food production — kill off weak bacteria. Food producers in the United States use more than 30 million pounds of antibiotics annually to induce livestock growth and reduce the risk of infection among animals living in unsanitary conditions. But the overuse of the drugs can strengthen bacteria’s resistance, leading them to become what medical professionals have dubbed “superbugs.”

Growing fear about antibiotic-resistant superbugs has compelled a push by food producers, agency heads, and lawmakers to eliminate antibiotic use in food production.

Some restaurants — including Arby’s, Chipotle, KFC, and Domino’s — have done their part to change the culture since the early 2000s, each one highlighting the health benefits of raising produce naturally. Last year, Perdue followed suit in ceasing its use of antibiotics in its products. Americans may soon see across-the-board changes. Shortly after, the FDA issued voluntary guidelines to regulate food producers’ antibiotic use and announced plans to phase out the medicine by 2016.

“This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials to protect public health while ensuring that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in a press release. “We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and animal producers, and we have been working — and will continue to work — to make this transition as seamless as possible.”

Costco’s latest decision counts among many of the progressive moves made by the retailer. According to an analysis of employee feedback conducted by Glassdoor, Costco is one of 25 companies with top marks on pay and benefits. Last year, Costco’s nearly 127,000 employees enjoyed Thanksgiving with their families when executives decided not to open stores, an unprecedented move during the start of the holiday shopping season.