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More than half of the largest 25 chain restaurants in the U.S. have taken steps to restrict routine antibiotic use in their chicken supply chains, according to a new scorecard released today by a group of consumer, environmental and public health organizations. That’s good news given that the misuse of antibiotics in meat production puts our health at risk by breeding drug-resistant bacteria.
The third annual Chain Reaction III report was produced by Consumers Union, Natural Resources Defense Council, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and Center for Food Safety. This year’s report, which grades the companies on their antibiotics policies and practices, found that 14 restaurants have taken action, up from nine just one year ago. While restaurant chains made great progress on chicken, the groups found that there were no new commitments to limit antibiotic use in beef and pork.
“Nothing less than our health is at stake when comes to misusing antibiotics in the food system. That’s why restaurants moving in the right direction, including Subway and KFC, deserve high praise and those that lag behind such as Olive Garden need a bit more of a push” said Hannah Kim, the Public Interest Advocate for Illinois PIRG Education Fund.
McDonald’s, based here in Illinois, maintains a “C+” this year for its previous commitment no longer serve chicken raised with medically important antibiotics in U.S. locations, a goal it met last summer. The chain recently announced a vision that includes goals around limiting routine antibiotic use in its entire meat supply chain globally. McDonald’s should move quickly to make that vision a reality by establishing time-bound targets for eliminating routine antibiotic use in its beef and pork supply chains. As one of the largest purchasers of beef and pork in the world, such a commitment would drastically shift the industry away from overusing life-saving medicines.
Health experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization warn that the widespread overuse of antibiotics is pushing us closer to a time where the medicines no longer work, and common infections can once again kill.
Although antibiotics can be misused in hospitals or doctors’ offices, approximately 70% of the medically- important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use on food animals. In many cases, the drugs are given on a routine basis to animals that aren’t sick to compensate for unsanitary conditions. This routine use creates the ideal conditions for drug-resistant bacteria to flourish.
“Imagine going to the doctor with an infection and being told that there is no cure. Actions from some of the largest restaurant chains in the U.S. are helping to prevent that scenario from becoming the new norm,” said Kim.
KFC earned recognition as the most improved restaurant chain in this year’s scorecard. The fried chicken giant jumped from an “F” to a “B-” this year after announcing a commitment to no longer purchase chicken raised with medically-important antibiotics in U.S. operations by the end of 2018.
“Consumers have grown more aware of the ties between antibiotic overuse on animals and the risks to human health,” said Kim. “Millennials especially are choosing brand allegiance based on more than taste and price, and restaurants are responding. We hope that this report educates even more consumers.”
In addition to restaurant actions nationally, some states have moved to fill the gap left by federal inaction on this critical health issue as well. California and Maryland passed laws in the last two years that prohibit the routine use of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick.
“If we’re going to preserve our ability to treat dangerous infections and save lives, we need action on antibiotics from all sectors. More restaurants, more states, and our federal health officials, should move swiftly to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics on industrial farms," said Kim.
Background and key findings of the report:
- Panera and Chipotle remain industry leaders and earned “A” grades for having comprehensive policies restricting the use of antibiotics in nearly all beef, pork, turkey and chicken served in their stores. Subway has made a commitment to implement a similar policy by 2025.
- While more than half the top chains have made commitments on chicken, 22 out of 25 restaurants have not adopted time-bound commitments for limiting use of antibiotics in pork and beef. McDonald’s recently outlined a global vision for reducing antibiotics in beef and pork, but has not provided any details or set a timeline for achieving it.
- KFC is the “most improved” restaurant in this year’s scorecard, earning a “B-” compared to the “F” it received last year. In March, KFC, which only serves chicken, made a commitment to only purchase birds raised without medically important antibiotics by the end of 2018.
- Six restaurants, all with strong antibiotics policies for chicken, received grades of “B+” to “C-” (Subway, Chick-fil-A, KFC, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s).
- The sweeping changes in chicken antibiotics policies in the restaurant sector have contributed to big improvements across the poultry industry. Close to half of U.S. chicken is raised by suppliers that follow responsible antibiotics practices or that have pledged to do so in the near future.
- Six restaurants received a “D” grade for a number of reasons, including having limited policies, lack of implementation, and/or insufficient auditing of suppliers to ensure compliance: Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jack in the Box, Burger King, and Papa John’s.
Eleven restaurants earned “F” grades for failing to adopt and disclose effective antibiotics stewardship policies: Sonic, Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Domino’s Pizza, Chili’s, Little Caesars, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dairy Queen, Arby’s, and IHOP.
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