Groups urge burger giant to join competitors such as McDonald’s and Shake Shack in doing their part to combat drug-resistant bacteria
DUBLIN, Ohio — As Wendy’s shareholders gather for their annual meeting, a group of national consumer and public health organizations is urging the company to adopt a policy to end antibiotic overuse in its beef supply chain. The Antibiotics Off the Menu coalition delivered a letter signed by more than 60 stakeholder groups asking the third largest burger chain in the United States to join competitors such as McDonald’s and use its buying power to help stem the rise and spread of drug-resistant bacteria.
“Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are a deadly threat to public health. Companies such as Wendy’s that buy beef in bulk should feel obliged to help solve that problem by cutting antibiotic use in their supply chains,” said Matt Wellington, Antibiotics Campaign Director at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Wendy’s prides itself on sourcing quality ingredients, and that should include beef raised without routine antibiotic use.”
The nation’s largest burger chain, McDonald’s, made a strong commitment to reduce medically important antibiotic use in its beef supply last December. And newer chains such as Shake Shack and BurgerFi already only serve beef raised without any antibiotics.
In contrast, Wendy’s currently sources only 20 percent of its beef from producers that have committed to cut the use of just one medically important antibiotic by 20 percent. The company earned a D- on the annual Chain Reaction scorecard, which grades top burger franchises on antibiotic use in their beef supply chains.
“Wendy’s can keep its hamburgers old-fashioned, but it’s time for the company to bring its antibiotics practices into the 21st century,” said Lena Brook, Director of Food Campaigns at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “We know change is possible—we’ve seen it happen before when the fast-food restaurant industry took a stand on chicken. Wendy’s has a responsibility to its customers to use its market influence for good, before these lifesaving drugs stop working when sick people and animals need them.”
A nationally representative survey of 1,014 adults conducted by Consumer Reports in 2018 found that 78 percent of respondents agreed that meat producers should stop giving antibiotics to animals that aren’t sick. Fifty-nine percent said they would be more likely to eat at a restaurant that serves meat raised without antibiotics.
“Consumers are concerned about antibiotics losing their effectiveness and want restaurants and meat producers to adopt more responsible practices,” Meg Bohne, Associate Director of Campaigns for Consumer Reports. “Given its massive buying power, Wendy’s could help protect public health by requiring its beef suppliers to stop misusing these critical medications.”
The groups are calling on Wendy’s to adopt a time-bound antibiotic use reduction policy for all its U.S. beef supplies that prohibits the routine use of all medically important antibiotics. That policy should be verified by a neutral third-party.
Approximately two-thirds of the medically important antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock. Of those drugs, 42 percent go to the beef industry, more than any other meat sector. Producers often give these antibiotics to cattle to compensate for inadequate diets and stressful, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on the industrial feedlots where nearly all U.S. cattle spend a portion of their lives.
“Most chickens in the U.S are raised without routine antibiotics,” said Steve Roach, Food Safety Program Director of Food Animal Concerns Trust. “Pressure from Wendy’s will help move cattle producers to do the same. Cattle do not need routine antibiotics but feedlots will have to improve diets and eliminate the other conditions that lead to unnecessary antibiotic use.”
The Infectious Diseases Society of America cites a new estimate that up to 162,000 Americans die from drug-resistant infections every year, making them the third leading cause of death in America behind heart disease and cancer.
The United Nations recently released a report that said without swift action to reduce antibiotic use, “deaths caused by infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria will skyrocket over the next two decades.” The report references a study that predicts that by 2050, resistant infections will claim 10 million lives worldwide every year.
“If we continue to overuse antibiotics in human medicine and in agriculture, the drugs will lose their effectiveness and we will once again be powerless against dangerous bacteria,” said Laura Rogers, Deputy Director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action at the GW Milken Institute School Public Health. “A world without antibiotics is almost unimaginable – it would send us back to the days where even a simple cut to the knee could be life-threatening.”
Restaurant industry commitments to end antibiotics overuse have pushed the chicken market over the tipping point in just a few years. In 2018, more than 90 percent of chicken in the United States was raised without routine use of antibiotics identified as medically important by the Food and Drug Administration.
Michael McCauley, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-431-6747, ext 7606