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FDA report shows progress in reducing overuse of antibiotics for food animals

Consumer Reports calls on beef and pork producers to take more action to stop misuse of life-saving drugs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new report issued today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows sales and distribution of medically important antibiotics for use in food animals declined by 33 percent between 2016 and 2017.  The report shows that the FDA’s prohibition on the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and recent steps by chain restaurants to limit antibiotics by their meat and poultry suppliers has helped reduce the overuse of these critical medications, according to Consumer Reports.

“This is a promising sign that stricter FDA oversight and marketplace pressure are working together to curb the misuse of these critical medications,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumer Reports.  “We’ve seen dramatic progress in the chicken industry, with the use of medically important antibiotics dropping by almost half in the last year.  But we still give more antibiotics to food animals than to people in order to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary factory farms.  Beef and pork producers must do more to stop the overuse of these life-saving drugs if we’re going to stem the tide of the growing antibiotics crisis that threatens public health.”

Progress on beef may be ramping up now that McDonald’s has announced that it plans to reduce the routine use of medically important antibiotics by its global beef suppliers.  The ultimate impact of McDonald’s efforts will depend on the antibiotic reduction targets it sets, which will be announced at the end of 2020.  Starting at the end of 2022, it will begin publicly reporting its progress in meeting these targets.  Consumer Reports has urged McDonald’s to use an independent auditor to monitor its progress in meeting the antibiotic reduction goals it establishes.

“We’ll be watching McDonald’s closely as it develops its plans and hope that the antibiotic reduction targets it sets are truly meaningful,” said Halloran.  “Other restaurants should follow its lead on beef and use their market power to help address this critical public health challenge.”

Last October, Consumer Reports and other groups released the annual Chain Reaction scorecard, which graded the top 25 burger chains on their antibiotics policies and practices for beef.  Twenty-two of the top 25 burger chains received failing grades.  Two smaller chains — Shake Shack and Burger Fi– earned “A” grades for serving only burgers raised without antibiotics.