Chick-fil-A Just Announced They’re Permitting Antibiotic Use in Their Poultry—Here’s Why

Updated: Mar. 26, 2024

The mouthwatering fast food chain with notoriously long lines had to make a tough call in the face of a growing environmental issue.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Flaco, the almost 14-year-old owl that recently collided with a skyscraper after escaping its home at the Central Park Zoo, was discovered to have “high levels” of rat poison in its system following its death. Experts seem to surmise that the owl most likely preyed on a rat that had consumed the poison.

If we are what we eat, but this is one reminder of how the classic “food chain” truly has a chain effect. That’s food for thought now that Chick-fil-A last week announced an update to its “No Antibiotics Ever” policy—though the reason for this amendment seems clear.

After removing all antibiotics from its chicken in 2019, Chick-fil-A says it has begun allowing its suppliers to use some antibiotics to raise them. The statement read: “To maintain the supply of high-quality chicken you expect from us, Chick-fil-A will shift from No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) to No Antibiotics Important To Human Medicine (NAIHM) starting in the Spring of 2024.” The new designation means that certain antibiotics will still be off-limits for Chick-fil-A poultry, specifically antibiotics that are often used by people and could lead to antibiotic resistance if also administered to the animals we eat.

It’s probable that this update comes with a rise in reported cases of avian influenza, otherwise known as “bird flu.” On March 26, 2024, US News and World Report reported: “Since 2022, [bird flu] outbreaks have led to the loss of about 80 million birds in U.S. commercial flocks.”

That was following March 25, when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that milk and oral swab samples that had been collected “from sick cattle” on dairy farms in Kansas and Texas had tested positive for “highly pathogenic avian influenza”—in other words, highly contagious bird flu. Meanwhile, in February 2024, the World Health Organization confirmed that two humans in Cambodia had tested positive for bird flu, which may hint at the potential for wider transmission between animals and humans.

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So, it’s possible that Chick-fil-A’s updated antibiotic policy has in fact been put in place for the safety of its patrons, and maybe antibiotics are better than a virus…but that still may not sound appetizing to many chicken sandwich fans. If you look for where government authorities stand, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears to consider Chick-fil-A’s policy an example of “antibiotic stewardship,” which includes the judicious use of antibiotics when animals are sick, using vaccines and other means to prevent illness in animals, and having the people who raise animals work with veterinarians to manage diseases to protect the health of the animals raised for food. The use of these antibiotics to expedite and increase the growth of animals raised for food has been banned by the FDA since 2017.

Chick-fil-A’s announcement aims to remind consumers the chain has been an historical early adopter of healthier practices. They removed all trans fats from the menu in 2008, reduced high-fructose corn syrup in 2010, and reduced sodium across its food in 2013. In the March 2024 announcement, Chick-fil-A emphasizes that it will maintain other brand standards, including all white meat chicken without fillers, artificial preservatives, hormones or steroids. 

This removes Chick-fil-A from the short list of national chains that are still reportedly committed to using no antibiotics ever in their chicken products, including Subway, Chipotle, Panera, and Dunkin’. 

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