Sanderson Farms, the third-largest chicken producer in the U.S., has never pretended to be against feeding antibiotics to its birds. In one of its more recent ad campaigns, a pretend Sanderson worker hooks his thumbs in his belt loops, stares directly into the camera and says that the idea of raising chickens without antibiotics is a just a "gimmick" to get shoppers to "spend more money. The commercial ends with Sanderson's tagline, '100% Natural,' which, according to a new lawsuit, may be 100 percent bullshit.
In the surprisingly entertaining legal filing, the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety all allege that chicken from Sanderson Farms contains a number of decidedly unnatural ingredients including amoxicillin, penicillin and assorted other antibiotics, growth hormones, prednisone and other steroids, pesticides and other substances, including Ketamine. Yes, Ketamine, the drug you took at an LCD Soundsystem show on the night you licked all the windows on the G-Train.
The lawsuit is based on routine testing results from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. In 2015 and 2016, when inspectors tested samples and poultry at Sanderson Chicken facilities in five states, they found a number of "residues that are not 100 percent natural." After conducting 69 inspections, 33 percent of the samples contained traces of antibiotics, steroids, hormones, and pesticides. Ketamine was detected in nine Sanderson samples from facilities in all five states.
"Sanderson's '100% Natural' marketing and advertising scheme falsely and misleadingly suggests that consumers are ingesting nothing but chicken, and certainly no synthetic drugs or other chemicals," the lawsuit says. (Have you eaten Sanderson Chicken? Probably. Sanderson is sold under its own name or under other brand names in most major supermarkets, and the company also provides chicken to restaurants including Dairy Queen and Chili's, and to Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, among others.)
"Sanderson's advertising claims are egregiously misleading to consumers, and unfair to competitors," said Ronnie Cummins, the international director for the Organic Consumers Association said in a statement.
Sanderson has admitted to using antibiotics when it raises poultry, although its ads—including the one with the guys in the supermarket—repeat the assertion that all chickens must be "clear" of antibiotics before they leave the farm. "There is not any credible science that leads us to believe we're causing antibiotic resistance in humans," Lampkin Butts, Sanderson's unfortunately named chief operating officer told the New York Times. "Our judicious use of antibiotics is to keep chickens healthy and prevent disease, not for growth promotion." He insists that those troublesome "100% natural" ads are targeting customers who "listen to facts and reason" and understand why the company is not antibiotic-free.
That's not good enough for the plaintiffs, who filed this lawsuit in order to hold Sanderson accountable to consumers, to admit that it uses false advertising to sell its poultry products, and to pay for an ad campaign to correct that "100 percent natural misconception."
"Sanderson Farms does not administer the antibiotics, other chemicals and pesticides, or 'other pharmaceuticals' listed in the complaint with one exception," the company told Bloomberg in a statement. "Our veterinarians do from time to time prescribe penicillin in FDA approved doses to treat sick flocks."
And the Ketamine is just for the ones with sick beats.