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Consumers Union praises McDonald’s plan to limit antibiotics used by its global chicken and beef suppliers

CU Urges Other Fast Food Chains To Take Action to Protect Public Health

YONKERS, NY – Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, praised McDonald’s far reaching policy announced today to limit the use of antibiotics by its global chicken and beef suppliers.  The consumer group has urged fast food chains to bar the routine use of antibiotics on healthy animals by their meat and poultry suppliers, a practice that medical experts have warned is making these drugs less effective for treating disease in people.

“The widespread use of antibiotics on livestock that aren’t sick is contributing to a global public health crisis with potentially dire consequences,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union.  “McDonald’s plan is a bold vision that will help preserve the effectiveness of these critical medications to fight infections and keep us healthy.  If fully implemented, it could be a total game changer that could transform the marketplace given the company’s massive buying power.”

In August 2016, McDonald’s announced that it was no longer selling any chicken raised on medically important antibiotics in the U.S.  McDonald’s committed itself today to prohibiting a group of the most valuable antibiotics used in human medicine in the production of chicken sold at its restaurants worldwide.  McDonald’s stated today that chicken produced in Japan, Brazil, and South Korea, as well as Canada and the U.S., would eliminate the use of these high-value antibiotics as of January 2018.  McDonald’s chicken produced in Europe, Russia, and Australia would achieve this goal by the end of 2019.  However, all markets would not eliminate these high-value antibiotics until 2027.

In a meeting with consumer and environmental organizations on August 17, McDonald’s stated that 74 percent of its global chicken sales will conform to this policy as of January 2018, followed by 80 percent in 2019.  By 2027, 98 percent of the chicken sold by McDonald’s internationally will come from poultry suppliers that abide by this policy.

In addition, McDonald’s informed the groups that it hopes to have a timeline soon for reducing  medically important antibiotics from its beef.  McDonald’s plans to focus first on beef produced in 10 countries, representing 85 percent of the company’s supply.

“Antibiotic resistant bacteria don’t observe national boundaries,” said Halloran.  “We commend McDonald’s for setting these goals and urge all fast food chains to use their market clout to protect public health before it’s too late.”

As antibiotic resistance grows, the medications used to treat infections become less effective.  According to the CDC, drug-resistant infections sicken at least 2 million people every year in the U.S. and 23,000 die as a result.  A 2016 report commissioned by the United Kingdom estimates that unless steps are taken to control antibiotic resistance, deaths from drug resistant infections will exceed cancer deaths globally by 2050.  The World Health Organization has warned that the increasing proliferation of drug-resistant superbugs could bring about the “end of modern medicine as we know it” and that “things as common as strep throat and a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

Seventy percent of the medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to healthy livestock such as cows, pigs, chickens, and turkey, generally to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary industrial farms.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and most medical experts agree that the widespread use of antibiotics for meat production threatens public health by contributing to the creation and spread of drug-resistant superbugs.

Over the past three years, Consumers Union has joined with a number of other organizations, including the Center for Food Safety, Food Animals Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, and USPIRG to urge the major fast food chains to stop selling meat and poultry raised on antibiotics.  The groups have published an annual Chain Reaction report evaluating and grading the antibiotics policies of the restaurants and mobilized hundreds of thousands of consumers to call on the companies to adopt more responsible practices.

In response, a growing number of restaurants have adopted reforms, particularly when it comes to reducing antibiotics used to raise chicken.  Most recently, KFC announced in March that it will no longer serve chicken raised using medically important antibiotics by the end of 2018.