McDonald's Changing Antibiotic Use Standards

Mar 11, 2015

McDonald’s Wants to Start Sourcing Proteins That Have Not Been Treated with Human Antibiotics

McDonald’s recently announced that it will no longer sell chicken treated with antibiotics that are also used in human medicine and will work to stop human antibiotic use in their other food supplies such as beef and pork. In addition, they announced they would stop using milk produced from cows administered artificial growth hormones (rBST).

This initiative will be phased in over the next two years at all 14,000 U.S. restaurants. The U.S. President of McDonald’s, Mike Andres, stated that, “Our customers want food that they feel great about eating, …all the way from the farm to the restaurant….and these moves take a step toward better delivering on those expectations”. McDonald’s did say that once they phase in the “no antibiotics” program producers will be allowed to treat sick animals but those animals will not be included in their food supply chain. However, the company did state they will continue to allow chicken growers to use ionophores in their poultry diets, since ionophores are not used in humans. Their reasoning on this is that chickens grown in vertically integrated systems still need low grade antibiotics to stay healthy, stating “if fewer chickens get sick, then fewer chickens need to be treated with antibiotics that are important to human medicine”.

The poultry industry has used feed grade doses of antibiotics for many years to both kill potentially harmful bacteria and to aid in daily gains of the birds. Feed grade antibiotics have been used in the beef and pork industries for the same purposes. However, there has been significant concern in recent years that the use of antibiotics on a daily basis in livestock production, particularly antibiotics that are important to human health, has fostered the development of “superbugs”. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, bacteria that have developed a resistance to these antibiotics can infect humans through a number of ways, such as through undercooked meat, infection of farm workers or food processing workers.

McDonald’s is following the trend started by other restaurant chains such as Chik-fil-A, Carl’s JR, Hardee’s, and Panera Bread. All have announced plans to eliminate the use of human grade antibiotics over the next several years. McDonald’s, because of its sheer size, is one of the largest chicken buyers in the U.S., representing 4% of the total chicken market.

According to poultry industry representatives, they have been phasing out the use of “human-critical” antibiotics for a number of years now. Tyson has removed these antibiotic types from their hatcheries as has Perdue. Both companies now claim to use only antibiotics prescribed by veterinarians. The Chicken Council stated they have been working with the U.S. FDA to phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes.

McDonald’s has worked with a consortium of scientists to develop recommendations for antimicrobial use and recently published their “Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals”. According to the document, the use of certain “critically important” antibiotics in all animal production would be significantly reduced, suppliers would be required to maintain records of antimicrobial use, and such use would be limited to sick animals only.

However, there are many who feel that McDonald’s is not going far enough in their global vision and need to ban the use of all medically-important antibiotics used in routine disease prevention, or antibiotic resistant bacteria will continue to develop.

McDonald’s will start offering milk from cows that have not been treated with rBST, a hormone developed by Monsanto to increase the fluid milk production from dairy cows. Since milk is such a popular item in the Happy Meal choices on their menu, McDonald’s believes this move will be important to their customers.

The past year has been particularly tough for McDonald’s U.S. restaurants with sales dropping and consumers expressing concern about the quality of McDonald’s food and the sustainability of their food supply. This has spurred McDonald’s to develop a marketing campaign called “Our Food, Your Questions”. McDonald’s has stated that they want to be increasingly transparent about their food supply.

McDonald’s is listed as a founding member of the new U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) along with a number of other restaurant chains, grocery retailers, processors, feeders, and cattle companies. The stated goal of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is to identify strategies to increase the sustainability of the domestic beef supply. Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, VP of Cargill Value Added Meats and Interim Chair of the Roundtable, stated that, “Research tells us that American consumers are increasingly interested in the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the beef they purchase”.

There are 43 founding members of the USRSB ranging from meat processors and retailers/restaurants to feedlots to ranchers to universities to environmental groups. It will be quite interesting to see what directives come out of the USRSB and how those directives drive changes in antibiotic use, environmental policy, soil health, and consumer perceptions and overall health. See below for a complete list of USRSB membership.

Founding members: Cargill Meat Solutions Corp.; Beef Marketing Group; Texas Cattle Feeders Association; Micro Technologies; Merck Animal Health; JBS USA; McDonald's; Wal-Mart; World Wildlife Fund; The Nature Conservancy; Noble Foundation; King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management; Adams Land and Cattle, LLC; AgriBeef Co.; Alabama Cattlemen's Association; Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas State University; Certified Angus Beef; Colorado Cattlemen's Association; Costco Wholesale Corp.; Dow AgroSciences LLC; Elanco Animal Health; Florida Cattlemen's Association; FPL Food LLC; Global Food Traceability Center; Golden State Foods; Holistic Management International; Kansas Livestock Association; K-COE ISOM; Lopez Foods; Minnesota Cattlemen's Association; Missouri Cattlemen's Association; National Beef Packing Co. LLC; National Cattlemen's Beef Association; National Livestock Producers Association; Nebraska Cattlemen's Association; Oregon Cattlemen's Association; Simplot Livestock Company; Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable; Texas A&M AgriLife Research; Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association; The National Grazing Lands Coalition; The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation; Tyson Foods, Inc.; and Zoetis.

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