McDonald's to source only chicken treated without human antibiotics

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015- McDonald's,  the world's largest fast food chain, today announced that it will only source chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine in all of their 14,000 U.S. restaurants within two years.

“Our customers want food that they feel great about eating - all the way from the farm to the restaurant - and these moves take a step toward better delivering on those expectations,” said McDonald's U.S. President Mike Andres.

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According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the announcement marks a “big step forward” in protecting the effectiveness of antibiotics for people. NRDC credited the move to Steve Easterbrook, who began as the new CEO of McDonald's this week, “and brings to the role a legacy of healthier food and environmental initiatives within the company's United Kingdom division.”

The farmers who supply chicken for the fast food chain's menu will continue to use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans that helps keep chickens healthy, McDonald's noted in its announcement.

“If fewer chickens get sick, then fewer chickens need to be treated with antibiotics that are important in human medicine. We believe this is an essential balance,” said Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North America supply chain.

In addition to the menu sourcing changes, McDonald's noted it is a founding member of the newly formed U.S. Roundtable on Sustainable Beef.

“Hopefully, chicken is just the start - the Big Mac and McRib may be next,” said Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC's Food and Agriculture program.

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said McDonald's commitment to antibiotic-free chicken is “excellent news for consumers” and should have “major reverberations throughout the meat and poultry industry.”  

In September and October last year, major suppliers Perdue and Tyson Foods announced they would no longer use antibiotics in their chicken hatcheries.

“This should inspire regulators to prohibit the overuse of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture altogether,” according to CSPI's statement today, which encouraged similar commitments for pork and beef.

Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council's vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said the vast majority of antibiotics used by chicken farmers are never used in humans.

"Chicken producers have a vested interest in protecting the effectiveness of antibiotics,” she said in her statement. “We've proactively and voluntarily taken steps toward finding alternative ways to control disease while reducing antibiotic use.”

Peterson noted that over the past two years, chicken producers have been working with the FDA to phase out the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine for growth promotion purposes in animals.

The NCC notes that there is small percentage of antibiotics approved by FDA for use in livestock and poultry that also have use in human medicine and are primarily used in animals to prevent a disease called necrotic enteritis - an infection in the bird's intestine caused by the bacteria Clostridium.

"While antibiotics that are important to human medicine are minimally used when raising chickens,” she said that by December 2016, according to an FDA guidance, antibiotics important to human medicine will be labeled for use in food animals only to address disease, not to promote growth, and will be used exclusively under the supervision and prescription of a veterinarian.

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