Being a cattleman, I have an inherent dislike for chicken. Yes, I like fried chicken, and I thoroughly enjoy wings, but disliking chicken in general has always been kind of a principled stand for me. It’s like being a Duke basketball fan; you automatically don’t like North Carolina, and vice versa.
However, I have a teenage daughter who persuaded me to go to a Chick-fil-A restaurant. The service was impeccable; the kids waiting on us had great manners. Meanwhile, the sauce you dipped your chicken in was so good that it made tasteless chicken even tasty to me. Throw in the fact that Chick-fil-A strives to operate with Christian principles – things like not opening on Sunday – and I find it hard not to be kind of a fan.
Of course, the ads featuring Holstein cows that exhort folks to “Eat mor chikin” are pretty darn humorous, even for a cattleman who is a little concerned about the message. However, with all the great things Chick-fil-A does in the community, if you are a cattleman, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s still a chicken outfit.
This week, the chain added to my consternation with its public pledge to go antibiotic-free within five years – no antibiotics ever administered from the hatchery to the processing plant. The next five years, Chick-fil-A says, will allow them to work with suppliers to build a supply chain that will allow them to be 100% antibiotic-free.
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Part of me rationalizes this announcement as Chick-fil-A responding to consumer demand, and part of me says they are succumbing to a radical minority. I think virtually everyone understands that, with the growing public concern regarding the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, the livestock industry must be more judicious and careful in how its uses antibiotics. However, using antibiotics properly is not only advantageous to the animal, it’s advantageous to consumers as well.
Chick-fil-A’s customer is the consumer, and it’s hard to argue with anyone who is acting to provide what their customers want. Heck, I’d find a way to make my bulls pink if that’s what would make my customers more money. However, it does raise the question about whether a business has a responsibility to the industry it’s a part of to educate consumers about perceptions that damage that industry; or does it make more sense to follow the mantra of the customer always being right?
The antibiotic issue is important because everyone wants to be able to treat a sick animal effectively, but the antibiotic issue is a harbinger of sorts. How the antibiotic issue plays out will likely have a big effect on the debate over the use of growth promotants, and on the use of technology in general.
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