Activists Pushing McDonald’s to Go Antibiotic Free with Beef, Pork

McDonald's no longer sells chicken treated with medically important antibiotics. Now a health advocacy group wants pork and beef to be next. ( Reuters )

A consumer and public health group is pressuring McDonald’s Corp to set a concrete timeline for phasing out medically important antibiotics in their beef and pork supply chain.

U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund put out a press release saying it was calling out McDonald’s because it is a major influencer as “the biggest purchaser of beef in the United States.”

U.S. PIRG alleges that McDonald’s has a vague long-term plan in place to remove the use of medially important antibiotics from their beef and pork suppliers. The organization believes this could lead to more antibiotic resistant bacteria, posing a major health risk to people.

“Protecting antibiotics requires action, not reaction. If we don’t act now to preserve the effectiveness of these medicines, we’ll face a world in which common infections once again kill,” says Matthew Wellington, antibiotics program director, U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “The Big Mac can make a big dent in stopping the misuse of antibiotics in our food system.”

A petition has been put out by U.S. PIRG as part of a nationwide campaign in hopes of getting McDonald's to go away from source beef or pork from animals treated with medically important antibiotics. Thus far there are nearly 10,000 signatures. 

Restaurants like Subway, Chipotle and Panera Bread, have all made pushes to go antibiotic-free with some or all of their menu items.

McDonald’s has made steps towards going antibiotic free by only purchasing chicken that was raised without the use of medically important antibiotics, starting in 2016. According to U.S. PIRG, 14 of the 25 largest restaurant chains in the U.S. have made a commitment to no longer acquire chickens that have been treated routinely with antibiotics.

“Now, it’s time for the biggest burger chain in the country to make the same commitment for all the meat they sell. Doing so will help protect doctors’ ability to treat infections and save lives,” Wellington says.

The fast food giant does have Global Vision for Antibiotic Stewardship in Food Animals (VAS), but there are no clear parameters set for beef or pork.

This week at the Top Producer Seminar, Townsend Bailey, director of U.S. supply chain sustainability for McDonald’s, sat down for an interview with AgriTalk. During the discussion Bailey outlined how antibiotics play a role in the company’s sustainability plans.

McDonald’s is committed to continuous improvement when it comes to animal health and welfare, Bailey says.

“How animals are cared for throughout our supply chain is really, really important for us,” Bailey says. “Being able to you know continue to understand the role of antibiotics in our supply chain and how we can be good stewards of those resources in our supply chain.”

Bailey adds that farmers still need to be able to care for their animals while “protecting the effectiveness of antimicrobials for society.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a summary report for 2016 on “Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food Producing Animals” in December. The report showed that livestock producers are doing their part to help reduce the use of antibiotics with sales dropping 10% from 2015 to 2016.

In 2016, estimated sales and distribution of medically important drugs were broken down as follows for the major livestock classifications:

  • Cattle 43%
  • Swine 37%
  • Chickens 6%
  • Other Species/Unknown 4%