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Tyson Withdraws Antibiotic-Free Labels

World's largest meat producer pulling advertising and labels claiming that its poultry products do not contain antibiotics, after a federal court issued an injunction.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) -- Tyson Foods Inc. said Monday it would ''voluntarily withdraw'' advertising and labels claiming that its poultry products do not contain antibiotics, after a federal court issued an injunction stopping the practice.

The world's largest meat producer said it notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture it would stop using the ''raised without antibiotics'' chicken label. Tyson said it asked the USDA, which previously had approved the slogan, to start ''a public process to bring more clarity and consistency to labeling and advertising rules'' on antibiotic claims.

Tyson had claimed it based the slogan on the absence of any antibiotic believed to affect humans.

''We still support the idea of marketing chicken raised without antibiotics because we know it's what most consumers want,'' Tyson senior vice president Dave Hogberg said. ''However, in order to preserve the integrity of our label and our reputation as a premier company in the food industry, we believe there needs to be more specific labeling and advertising protocols.''

U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett in Baltimore had set a May 15 deadline to stop Tyson from running any of the advertisements. The injunction came after competitors Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. sued, claiming Tyson's advertising was misleading.

Tyson had appealed Bennett's ruling, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, denied a motion by Tyson to stay the order in May.

Sanderson, based in Laurel, Mississippi, has argued it lost a $4 million (euro2.58 million) account to Tyson because of the advertising campaign, and Salisbury-based Perdue claims it has lost about $10 million (euro6.44 million) in revenue since last year.

Charles Hansen of the Truthful Labeling Coalition, whose members are Perdue, Sanderson and Livingston, California,-based Foster Farms, had asked the USDA to rescind its approval for Tyson's labeling. Hansen did not immediately return a call for comment left at his office Monday night.

After approving the advertising, the USDA later told Tyson that, when it approved the no-antibiotics label, it had mistakenly overlooked additives called ionophores that are used in feed for Tyson's chicken. Regulators said the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has a long-standing policy of classifying ionophores as antibiotics. Tyson disagreed, saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not consider them antibiotics.

Tyson's Hogberg later testified in court that the company spent about $16 million (euro10.31 million) on the original publicity campaign, including about $4 million (euro2.58 million) in promotional materials. Tyson said Monday it has begun designing and ordering new labeling and packaging for its poultry products.

Tyson stressed its decision would not cause any changes in how the Springdale-based company ''protects the health of its birds.''

''The company does not use antibiotics for the purpose of growth promotion,'' the Tyson statement read. ''On those rare occasions when antibiotics are used to treat an illness, it is on a prescription-basis only to protect birth health.''

Tyson is the country's second-largest chicken producer after Pilgrim's Pride Corp.

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