Wendy's chicken sandwich ad is ruffling some feathers

Thursday, October 1, 2015
(Photo from Wendy's website)

One particular ad caught my eye on a lazy Sunday afternoon of endless scrolling on Facebook. A grilled chicken sandwich from Wendy's was staged on a wooden cutting board with a photo filter that must have been titled, "now you're hungry."

The tagline beneath the drool-inspiring picture stopped my mouth from watering instantly. It read, "Our new Grilled Chicken Sandwich uses chickens raised without antibiotics, which is kind of a big deal."

Actually Wendy's, that is kind of a big deal. As stated on the National Chicken Council's website, "All chicken is "antibiotic-free" in the sense that no antibiotic residues are present in the meat due to the withdrawal periods and other precautions required by the government and observed by the chicken companies."

Courtney Cusick Wiedemann left a comment on Wendy's Facebook post that read,

"Just means the chicken before may have had antibiotics in it."

The misleading marketing may confuse the consumer to believe that previously they were ingesting antibiotics in their product. Elizabeth Marie Owens, a judge, producer, chairmen and consumer in the poultry industry expressed her opinion in an email on Sept. 10 about Wendy's advertisement.

"With Wendy's making such a bold statement as 'It's kind of a big deal,' they will be fired back comments about their other products," Owens said. "Will they be able to answer these questions? These food chains can make an appetizing commercial or statement but their responses can be far from educated."

Going to Market
How can Wendy's market their new grilled chicken as "antibiotic-free" if all chicken that enters the food supply is antibiotic free? As sourced from NCC, labeling food as "antibiotic free" is not allowed, but may be found in marketing materials that are not regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our country has been fortunate enough that farmers can provide chicken products varying from inclination to taste, affordability and personal preference. The Poultry Federation, which vows to promote and protect all poultry interests explains that they believe in providing consumers with options. Some poultry processors are producing product lines from chickens raised without antibiotics for those who have a desire for that commodity. The NCC verifies that approximately 1/3 of broiler chicken companies currently produce chicken raised without antibiotics and/or organic chicken products.

Public Concern
"When people think of antibiotics, they would tend to relate that with the false images activists put out there," Owens said. "These conditions are not true. The United States has laws and regulations that keep things like that from happening."

The Animal Agriculture Alliance clarifies that several layers of protection have been put into place to ensure that animal antibiotics do not affect public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture, along with the veterinary community, animal health companies and farmers all play a role in an effective process to protect the health of the animals, as well as humans.

Disease control/prevention
The Animal Agriculture Alliance states that antibiotics are a critical tool used to prevent, control and treat disease in animals. Veterinarians work closely with producers to use these products safely and in such a way that consumers can be assured they have the safest food possible. Banning or severely restricting the use of antimicrobials in animals may have a negative impact on a veterinarian's ability to protect animal health and prevent suffering from disease, as expressed by the AAA.

"I used antibiotics to help treat coccidiosis, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases as a last resort for a bird with a cold," Owens conveyed.

The NCC estimates that waiting until the disease actually takes hold would pose animal welfare issues as well as reduce the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment.

The National Chicken Council Senior Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, Ashley Peterson, Ph.D. spoke on June 2 in regards to a "White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship" in Washington, D. C.

"The vast majority of the antibiotics that we use are never used in human medicine. The majority are from a class called ionophores which are used in animals only and are critically important to chicken producers to maintain the gut health of our birds," Peterson said.

Ionophores are used to prevent diseases in poultry. They are not used as growth promoters per the NCC.

The FDA-approved this non-antibiotic coccidiostat to prevent coccidiosis. By allowing its use, it reduces the need for intensive medical treatments for fatal diseases as stated by the NCC.

The top priority of farmers and chicken companies is to raise healthy chickens.

The Poultry Federation indicates the products they sell to the grocery chains and restaurants are the same products they feed their families. The NCC wants to communicate to consumers that the entire poultry industry is interested in doing the right thing.

"We as producers care about our animals," Owens said. "We would never treat them badly."

Wendy's tagline, "Our new Grilled Chicken Sandwich uses chicken raised without antibiotics," could have just as easily read, "uses chickens that were well cared for by veterinarians and producers," or "uses healthy and safe sources of chicken." All are very obvious statements in the agriculture world. You're right Wendy's, poultry produced in the U.S. is kind of a big deal.

Contact Michaela Leimkuehler at mleimkuehler@marshallnews.com