An Atlanta-based chain has jumped on the bandwagon and joins others like Chipotle in responsibly raising meat without antibiotics. Chick-fil-A announced its plans to serve only antibiotic-free chicken within the next five years as a response to growing concern among customers about the safety of food ingredients. But how exactly will the chain’s switch benefit their clientele’s health?

Tim Tassopoulos, Chick-fil-A's senior vice president of operations, told The Associated Press in a phone interview, the company aims to keep its customers updated on this responsibly raised meat initiative and will eventually advertise its switch in its 800 restaurants in 39 states and Washington D.C. "We're going to make sure customers know," he said. Chick-fil-A’s move will likely result in higher prices for customers, although they are working with suppliers like Tyson, Purdue, and Pilgrim’s Pride to keep the impact “minimal.” The proposed changes by the company will likely take place within the next five years as it is currently working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

The use of antibiotics in animal feed has become a growing concern for consumers. These drugs are fed to animals to keep them growing faster and to prevent them from getting sick in what are often crowded and unsanitary conditions. Chickens are given these antibiotics to treat E.coli bacteria, but this had led to several strains which are resistant to treatment and can be passed onto humans. The Food and Drug Administration has suggested for meat producers to limit the use of antibiotics in their livestock, late last year, to limit the spread of these antibiotic-resistant germs.

Public health organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have argued the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed could lead to a rise in drug-resistant bacteria in superbugs such as tuberculosis and staph infections. Each year, at least two million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, with approximately 23,000 people dying each year as a result. Now the FDA is being extra vigilant with meat producers who use antibiotics like tetracyclines and penicillins, for “non-therapeutic use,” or purposes that go beyond treating an existing illness.

The fear that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is creating a new generation of superbugs is one that is real for meat consumers. Checking labels, or simply asking a server whether the meat has been treated with antibiotics are just some ways meat eaters can actively play a role in limiting their exposure to these meats. A petition by MomsRising.org, is asking Trader Joe’s, to source their meat only from antibiotic-free animals.

On board with Chick-fil-A’s decision is spokesman for the Humane Society of the U.S., Paul Shapiro, who believes it is a positive step on the public health front. In regard to animal welfare, he believes the use of antibiotics is a “minor” factor that affect the conditions in which chickens are raised, the AP reported. Keep Antibiotics Working, a coalition of health and agricultural advocacy groups, also support the chain’s announcement, stating it will benefit both public health and businesses. “We hope that Chick-fil-A's transition will occur sooner than five years from now, and anticipate that other restaurants will follow,” the group said.

Chick-fil-A asks its suppliers to work with the USDA to verify no medically unnecessary antibiotics are administered at any point.