By Rachel Roberts
Just last week, McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain, announced that it plans to begin phasing out from its menu chicken raised with antibiotics used to fight human infections. This change, which will take place over the next two years, comes as a reaction to consumer demands for healthier and safer food.
McDonald’s policy will begin at hatcheries, where chicks are injected with antibiotics while still in the shell. The company however says suppliers will still be allowed to use the antibiotic ionophores, which is not used on humans, but still keeps chickens healthy.
According to NBC, McDonald’s announcement comes amidst increasing competition from smaller restaurant chains such as Chipotle and Panera, presenting themselves as more wholesome alternatives to the fast-food giant. McDonald’s has been battling increasing negative perceptions about its food as people are beginning to favor food made with more “natural” ingredients.
Although veterinary use of antibiotics is legal, public health experts warn of the consequences of such use. Routinely feeding antibiotics to chickens and cattle can result in superbugs, which are cross-resistant to medically important antibiotics—in short, antibiotics used in treating human illnesses would no longer be as effective.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, superbugs are linked to about 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses every year in the U.S., costing up to $20 billion in direct healthcare costs annually.
Jonathan Kaplan, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Food and Agriculture Program, said in a statement that this announcement by McDonald’s might serve as a “tipping point for antibiotic use in the poultry industry” since the company harbors so much “purchasing power and brand recognition.”
Kaplan however hopes that chicken is just the beginning, and urges McDonald’s to adopt similar practices for beef and pig purchases.
McDonald’s was also announced last week as a founding member of the U.S. Roundtable on Sustainable Beef, whose members include organizations such as Wal-Mart, World Wildlife Fund, and The Nature Conservancy.