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Six years ago, IATP and the Sierra Club published the first study to test brand-name poultry products from stores for the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study was at the beginning of our work to stop the routine and unnecessary use of human antibiotics in animal feed to make healthy animals grow faster - a practice the science shows is leading to more antibiotic resistant infections in people.

The study got lots of media attention and some expected criticism from the poultry industry, particularly Minnesota-based Gold'n Plump - which produced some of the chicken we tested. The company didn't dispute our findings of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on its chicken, rather they disputed the media coverage of our findings, arguing before the Minnesota News Council that a local TV story overstated the risks to consumers.

Fast-forward to 2008. Gold'n Plump's current marketing strategy for its "natural" chicken hinges on not using hormones (already banned in chicken) and not using antibiotics except to treat sick chicken. Minnesota/St. Paul Business Journal wrote about the company's research in 2006 which found that "freshness, health and food safety" were most important to customers. The company has billboards up all around the state touting their "natural" chicken without antibiotics. Certainly admirable progress from six years ago.

But the company has gone a step further to defend its label. In January, Gold'n Plump along with Perdue, Sanderson Farms and Foster Poultry asked for a temporary restraining order in federal district court, charging that Tyson Foods had continued to make false and misleading advertising claims that its chicken were "raised without antibiotics." In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture told Tyson's to stop claiming its chickens were raised without antibiotics because of a dispute over whether the company's use of ionophores constituted an antibiotic. In December, the company and USDA reached an agreement on language related to their antibiotic use. Goldn Plump et al, working together under the banner of the Truthful Labeling Coalition, alleged that Tyson's is still using the old labeling. Although a District Court judge ruled against the restraining order, Conde Nast blogger Jack Flack writes about how the ruling is "not much of a win at all."

This legal ruckus among chicken companies shows how far we've come in six years. Poultry companies are actually fighting amongst themselves on how they can best market their chicken as antibiotic-free - instead of arguing that antibiotic-resistant bacteria aren't a risk at all. IATP and the Keep Antibiotics Working Coalition have had enormous success in pressuring meat and poultry companies to stop inappropriately using antibiotics, particularly those that treat humans.

At the same time, the salvos flying between chicken companies, and consumer confusion around what the industry's labels actually mean, point to the need for a level playing field for all. That's why we need Congress to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. This Act would keep all the chicken, pork and beef companies from adding important human medicines to their animal feeds for animals that aren't even sick.

Maybe we can even get Goldn Plump's support?