In response to the health risks posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, McDonald’s has announced it is implementing new targets for cutting antibiotic use in the global chicken supply, and plans to expand its commitment to fewer antibiotics in pork and beef. Meat producers around the world commonly feed antibiotics to livestock—even healthy animals, which can breed drug-resistant bacteria.
“The misuse of antibiotics and the rise of resistant bacteria is a worldwide health problem, not just a U.S. problem,” says Matthew Wellington, Antibiotics Program Director for U.S. PIRG. “We’re glad that McDonald’s is working to preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving medicines globally, and hope the chain moves quickly to make that vision a reality.”
At least 23,000 Americans die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections. Health experts cite the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture—where the majority of the drugs are sold in the U.S.—as a major contributor to the problem.
When McDonald’s first announced it would cut antibiotic use in the U.S. chicken supply in 2015, health advocates called it a “super-sized change.” The company’s new “Global Vision for Antibiotic Stewardship” commits to eliminating “highest-priority critically-important antibiotics” in the chicken supply chain. While this worldwide policy is not as ambitious as the U.S. policy, which eliminated all antibiotics important to human medicine, it’s still a significant step forward globally.
The “Global Vision” also includes goals for eliminating routine preventative use of medically important antibiotics in beef and pork, but McDonald’s does not have a timeline in place for doing so. The beef and pork industries are lagging far behind the poultry industry in reducing antibiotic use.
“Whether it’s a chicken, pig or cow that’s being dosed with antibiotics on a routine basis, it’s part of the problem,” says Wellington. “So while we’re excited by today’s news, we also want to see McDonald’s make a strong commitment with time-bound targets for pork and beef. With the size and purchasing power of McDonald’s, its commitment would tell beef and pork producers that they need to catch up to their brethren in the poultry industry. Nothing less than our health is at stake.”