Farmers Protest Panera’s Shaky Anti-Antibiotics Campaign

Last week our sister site AllTwitter reported on a story that serves as a great example of a well-meaning social media marketing campaign that got a little too aggressive. Harping on the fact that it supposedly uses only “antibiotic-free” meat in its food, the Panera Bread chain’s team created a campaign pushing the message that only lazy farmers use antibiotics on their animals. This included a micro-site, a Facebook tab, and the satirical @EZChicken Twitter feed (which was more than a little over the top despite some pretty cool art direction).

We get where they were going with this project and the tagline “The Road to Delicious Is Antibiotic-Free”, but it’s hard not to conclude that any farmers who use antibiotics in any circumstance are not very good at their jobs—and that implication extends to nearly every farmer in this country. Now who supplies Panera with the meat for its sandwiches?

The response from the animal husbandry community wasn’t so positive:

A few points to make: there’s a reason that “antibiotic-free” is such a strong selling point. Meat testing research has strongly tied hyper-resistant bacteria to the overuse of antibiotics in farm settings. At the same time, this does not in any way mean that antibiotics are, in general, a bad thing. In fact, they’re an essential part of the farmer’s life used to prevent disease and ensure that meat is fit for market; most are sold over the counter.

Farmer and blogger “Dairy Carrie,” who started the backlash against Panera’s campaign with this post, points out that all chicken sold in this country must meet the same FDA standards for antibiotics, meaning that Panera’s chicken is almost certainly not so different from any other chicken consumed in this country. A subsequent blog post by animal health expert Dr. Scott Hurd further discredits the company’s claims, noting that Panera simply can’t prove that it serves only “healthy” chickens  and that certain antibiotic treatments are needed to keep dangerously undetectable diseases out of the food supply. It’s a little…complicated.

At any rate, the #PluckEZChicken tag (get it?) is still trending on Twitter nearly a week later and, while the company deleted the offending feed, many of the campaign’s elements still live on Panera’s homepage.

The clear message here: don’t insult the people who supply your product—especially when your claims aren’t quite airtight.