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Today, McDonald’s released a new policy to restrict the use of medically-important antibiotics in its beef supply chain. The company says it will immediately start measuring and assessing antibiotic use in its top ten beef sourcing markets. Then, by the end of 2020. McDonald’s plans to set targets for lower use of medically-important antibiotics. .
One of the key parts of the policy is limiting the routine use of antibiotics to prevent disease, rather than treat disease.The World Health Organization strongly advises against that practice because it breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As the largest beef purchaser in the United States, McDonald’s new commitment could spark an industry-wide change to help keep antibiotics effective.
“The Golden Arches just raised the bar for responsible antibiotic use in meat production. We can’t afford to misuse these precious medicines. Otherwise, we risk losing our ability to treat life-threatening infections,” said Sophie Haddad, Chair for CALPIRG Students. “McDonald’s new commitment is a promising step forward that will help preserve antibiotics for the future, and that’s something we should all be happy about.”
McDonald’s action on antibiotics fits with the company’s commitment to use its size for good, though the burger chain needed some persuading. In 2015, CALPIRG Students worked with U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Antibiotics off the Menu coalition started to push McDonald’s to phase routine antibiotic use out of its meat supply chain. Shortly afterward, McDonald’s took an important step forward, transitioning away from purchasing chicken raised on medically-important antibiotics. In August 2017, McDonald’s released a new Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship, which included important objectives, such as cutting routine antibiotic use from its entire meat supply. However, the company did not attach any timeline for making that vision a reality.
“It’s great that McDonald’s is joining the effort to stop wasting life-saving antibiotics on healthy livestock, so that we can preserve them for patients who need them,” said Brad Spellberg MD, Chief Medical Officer, LAC+USC Medical Center. (opinion expressed is Dr. Spellberg’s, not that of LAC+USC Medical Center)
Beginning in January 2018, CALPIRG Students mobilized students on almost a dozen campuses across the country, calling on the fast food giant to extend its antibiotic use policy to its entire meat supply, with a concrete timeline for implementation. Student volunteers mobilized over a thousand students to take action, making phone calls into McDonald’s comment line, posting to McDonald’s social media channels, and reaching out to local media to amplify the issue.
In October 2018, CALPIRG Students, the Student PIRGs, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and its coalition partners held an event outside of McDonald’s headquarters to release the Chain Reaction Report, which graded the top 25 U.S. burger chains on their antibiotics policies. After McDonald’s received an “F,” the company responded on Twitter and in the media that it would release a global antibiotics policy for its beef by the end of the year. We are excited to see that McDonald’s followed through on its pledge to move forward on restricting antibiotic use.
“Consumers called on McDonalds to ‘hold the antibiotics.’ Its response shows progress, and we look forward to seeing the company continue to use its size for good when it comes to preserving life-saving antibiotics,” said Haddad.
70% of medically-important antibiotics sold in the United States are for use on livestock and poultry. Antibiotic misuse on farms occurs when drugs are routinely given to animals to compensate for unsanitary, crowded conditions rather than to treat sick animals. This practice is a major threat to human health because it fosters the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. By 2050, experts estimate 10 million people a year could die globally from drug-resistant infections.
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