US meat processing major Tyson Foods is working towards a “no antibiotics ever” branding for all of its branded chicken lines in the US. The food producer has revealed growing consumer demand for its meat products to be produced without antibiotics, preservatives, added hormones, or steroids.

Consumers are looking for simpler products, as well as responding to growing concerns about microbial resistance to antibiotics. It is a trend that has also sparked moves away from antibiotic use by pork producer Smithfield Foods, which announced the launch of an antibiotic-free line of fresh pork products in the same week that Tyson went public with its plan for antibiotic-free (ABF) chicken.

So are US consumers prepared to pay more for ABF meat? 

ABF meat production is costly and takes time to perfect. It requires extra controls across feed ingredients, ventilation systems, water treatments, waste and litter management, temperatures – the list is extensive.

However, in 2016, US consumers were actually trading down on retail meat purchases after food price inflation is taken into account. The value of retail sales of meat grew by 1.9% year-on-year, driven by volume growth and food price inflation. In fact, volume growth and inflation exceed growth in retail sales value, showing that consumers overall are spending less in real terms on meat.

Galen Miller, owner and president of Miller Poultry, an ABF and certified organic broiler producer, told Poultry Health Today: “Obtaining good health and welfare is achievable without antibiotics, but often at a significant cost that, frankly, a lot of buyers aren’t willing to pay for.”