Animal advocates say that the announcement is a marketing technique and has nothing to do with the welfare of the animals. "They see the public concerned about the issue but the public is also concerned with animal welfare," PETA senior corporate liaison David Byer told The Dodo.
Americans consume more chicken than anyone else in the world – 83.6 pounds per capita each year, according to the industry group National Chicken Council. A flock of broiler chickens consists of about 20,000 birds in a house 400 feet long and 40 feet wide. This breaks down to less than a square foot per bird. "By nature," the Council website says, "as the old saying goes, the birds do tend to flock together," but it's hard to see that there's anything natural about this.
Tyson Foods has come under fire in the past for how they treat their chickens and their consumers. In 2010, the company settled a class action lawsuit for $4.4 million around claims that the company used false advertising on packages of chicken "raised without harmful antibiotics." In 2003, a former Tyson employee came forward about "horrendous working conditions" and acts of cruelty against the birds, including stomping the birds and ripping their wings off.
Some animal advocates say that even organically raised chickens live in horrible conditions, and suffer from more parasites and have higher mortality rates than medicated chickens because they can't be treated with drugs.
Tyson's announcement didn't say how the company would prevent disease in cramped factory farming conditions without human antibiotics - perhaps other antibiotics will still be used, Byer speculated. Tyson only says it plans to work with food industry and academic communities to "accelerate research into disease prevention and antibiotic alternatives." It added that the announcement "will not materially affect the company's financial performance."
Here's a look at why factory farmed chickens have to take so many drugs to begin with: