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Tyson settles suit over antibiotic labelling

Tyson Foods has agreed to pay up to US$50 to every consumer who bought poultry that was labelled antibiotic-free.

The refunds are part of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that accused the company of falsely claiming its chickens were raised without antibiotics.

The settlement is capped at $5 mln, not including $3 mln in attorneys' fees.

Tyson Foods uses ionophores, a poultry feed additive that the US Department of Agriculture classifies as an antibiotic. Because ionophores have not been shown to be harmful to humans, Tyson wanted to advertise its chicken as being "without harmful antibiotics." Their campaign began in 2007.

Class-action suit

The USDA approved the phrase for marketing purposes in December 2007, but competitors Perdue Farms and Sanderson Farms filed lawsuits one month later. Consumers followed with a class-action suit.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said in a statement that the campaign was suspended in 2008 because of labelling challenges.

"We're pleased a settlement has been reached and the court has given preliminary approval," said Mickelson. "While we believe our company acted appropriately, we also believe it makes sense for us to resolve this legal matter and move on."

According to the settlement, consumers who purchased Tyson chicken products labelled as antibiotic free from mid-June 2007 through April 2009 are entitled to refunds.

Natalie Berkhout

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