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New Antibiotic Use Standard for Poultry Announced

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Baby chick (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

The Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use (CRAU) is a new antibiotic use standard created by School Food FOCUS and The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) for suppliers of poultry who opt to sell certified chicken to schools, hospitals, and other institutional customers. School Food FOCUS and Pew developed CRAU with the input of the National Procurement Initiative, a collaborative of 15 school districts serving 2.3 million children nationwide with more than $36 million in annual chicken purchasing power. According to its creators, CRAU could slow the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria in food animal production—protecting both human and animal health over time—by reducing the amount of antibiotics given to poultry.

Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken producer, is the first company to adopt the standard. The company successfully completed an audit at its New Holland, PA, complex on April 7, 2015, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) verified that Tyson’s practices meet the CRAU standard.

Pew and other consumer-health groups have long warned that widespread use of antibiotics in meat production, along with heavy use of antibiotics in human medicine, has contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs. Makers of animal drugs agreed to stop marketing them for weight-gain purposes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines for the industry in 2013. According to the Wall Street Journal, other poultry producers, including Waverly, Nebraska-based Tecumseh Poultry LLC’s Smart Chicken division, are pursuing certification for their own poultry operations.

The new CRAU standard will allow for the use of some medically important antibiotics, mostly for treating animals already sick, but also if a veterinarian believes there to be a high risk of illness in a particular flock, according to Pew. If such illnesses persist, the producer needs to develop a written plan to address the problem.

CRAU is the first industry standard addressing responsible antibiotic use with compliance verified by USDA. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service Quality Assessment Division will audit poultry companies using either its Process Verified or Quality System Assessment Programs. Either program ensures that the CRAU requirements are supported by a documented quality management system. Audit reports will be submitted to School Food FOCUS to ensure conformance to the CRAU standard. The scope of the CRAU verification includes a comprehensive farm-to-package review of relevant processes and facilities covering hatcheries, feed mills, farms/barns, and processing/packaging sites. The audit must document systems for proper identification and segregation of CRAU product from farm to package.

“Under these programs, USDA provides audit-based third-party verification services to the poultry industry. Through these audits, companies can assure customers of their commitment to responsible antibiotic use,” said Craig Morris of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. “The CRAU standard gives the poultry industry attainable, verifiable guidelines, which can play a valuable role in promoting the responsible use of antibiotics.”

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