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Sanderson Farms loses motion to dismiss NGO lawsuit on false and misleading advertising

Judgement comes after poultry giant announces major shift in policy on antibiotics use in chicken production

WASHINGTON – A judge dismissed Sanderson Farms’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit from multiple NGOs about the company’s misleading advertising yesterday. The judgement comes after Sanderson Farms, the nation’s third largest chicken producer, announced late last week that it would stop the routine use of medically important antibiotics to prevent disease in its chicken flocks by March 2019. In a sharp reversal from its current position, the company stated that it will continue to use antibiotics to treat sick animals or control a disease outbreak in their chicken operations.

“Experts have been saying for years that we must limit the use of medically important antibiotics in chicken in order to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics for humans. It is good to see Sanderson Farms finally pull its head out of the sand and listen to the experts,” said Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of Food and Agriculture at Friends of the Earth. “After years of misleading the public and denying the public health risks associated with overuse of antibiotics in animal production, we welcome the judges’ decision to allow our lawsuit against Sanderson Farms to continue.”

This announcement comes as Sanderson Farms is under increasing pressure from shareholders to make a change in its antibiotic stewardship policies. In the largest shareholder vote ever on this topic, 43 percent of its shareholders supported a resolution in February 2018 submitted by As You Sow, urging the company to stop using medically-important antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick.

Sanderson Farms is also under pressure from a California lawsuit brought by Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety and co-counseled by Center for Food Safety, alleging that its advertising, including a set of videos the company released that it calls its “truth-telling” campaign, claiming that its chicken products are “100% Natural,” is false and misleading. Yesterday, the judge issued an order denying Sanderson Farms’ request to dismiss the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the ads mislead consumers about the company’s use of antibiotics in its chickens, while also downplaying the serious public health threats associated with the routine use of antibiotics in meat production.

“We are pleased that this lawsuit can now move forward and believe that Sanderson Farms is taking a good first step toward eliminating the use of medically important antibiotic use in livestock production,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director at Center for Food Safety. “We hope Sanderson will utilize a third-party certifier to verify these production practices that so that consumers can be assured that these chickens were raised without routine use of antibiotics.”

In making its decision, Sanderson Farms cited to the findings of an advisory board that it assembled, which stated that “[a] move by [Sanderson Farms] to a system where non-medically important antibiotics . . . can be used for prevention, and medically important antibiotics can be used for treatment and control of disease, could represent a responsible compromise to better preserve efficacy of antibiotics important for human health…”

The World Health Organization has recommended a complete restriction of the use of medically-important antibiotics in livestock and poultry to prevent disease in order to preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs for people.

Communications Contact: Erin Jensen, (202) 222-0722, ejensen@foe.org
Expert Contacts: Kari Hamerschlag, Friends of the Earth, 510-207-7257
Rebecca Spector, Center for Food Safety, 415-826-2770

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