McDonald’s USA announced March 4, 2015, that within two years it would purchase only chicken raised without medically important antibiotics. This news is a sign that major fast food restaurants are recognizing that limiting antibiotic use in food animal production is good for business and good for public health.
Serving 27 million customers every day in its 14,000 U.S. restaurants, McDonald’s joins another fast food leader, Chick-fil-A Inc., and producers such as Perdue Farms, which have recently made commitments to sharply curtail antibiotic use in poultry.
Data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration show that more than 70 percent of antibiotics important for human health care are sold for food animal production. That means that the majority of antibiotics needed to treat sick people are used to prevent disease and promote growth in healthy animals.
The overuse and misuse of antibiotics add to the growing risk of drug-resistant bacteria. Drug resistance is an urgent public health threat, with superbug infections sickening at least 2 million people every year in the U.S. and 23,000 people dying from these infections. Responsible use of antibiotics in food production is necessary to help turn that tide and keep medicines effective for those who need them most.
By recognizing the demand for products raised with minimal antibiotic use, McDonald’s has created momentum for the entire food industry to curb the overuse of antibiotics in food animals.
The announcement also comes at a time when new policies are being put in place that would encourage responsible antibiotic use in the production of all food animals. In his budget for fiscal year 2016, President Barack Obama proposed $1.2 billion to combat antibiotic resistance, a portion of which would support FDA efforts to phase out medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals.
McDonald’s announcement is a victory in the battle against antibiotic resistance, but more work needs to be done. “We are eager to collaborate with other companies to see this approach extended to beef and pork production,” said Gail Hansen, a veterinarian and expert in Pew’s antibiotic resistance project. “By reining in the use of antibiotics in all animals, we can make significant progress in slowing the threat from superbugs.”