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Boston: Today, McDonald’s released a new policy to restrict medically important antibiotic use in its beef supply chain. The company will monitor antibiotic use in its top ten beef sourcing markets and set reduction targets for medically important antibiotic use by the end of 2020. Principles in the policy include restricting the routine use of the drugs to prevent disease, a practice that the World Health Organization recommends ending 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,” Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG Legislative Director. “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, MASSPIRG 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.
"Antibiotic overuse in food systems and in human medicine are one and the same issue,” said Dr. Sujit Suchindran, an infectious disease physician at Lahey Hospital and Co-Director of its Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. “Most people don't realize that the majority of antibiotics used in this country are used in agriculture. Those drug resistant bacteria that start out on the farm don't just stay there. They can directly lead to drug resistant bacterial infections in humans and this has been shown time and again. When fully implemented, McDonald's commitment to reduce antibiotic use in its supply chain, will be a victory for the patients I see every day with drug resistant infections and for our efforts to combat this public health crisis."
Since January 2018, MASSPIRG Education Fund and its partners have called on McDonald’s to phase routine antibiotics out of its beef and pork supply chains as well. More than 80 international stakeholders, including health, environmental, and consumer groups, have called on the chain to act. Several of those groups delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures to McDonald’s headquarters during its annual shareholder meeting in May, demonstrating widespread consumer support.
In October 2018, MASSPIRG Education Fund and its coalition partners released 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 with a robust policy that can make a difference.
“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 Cummings.
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.
MASSPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being. MASSPIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which runs organizations committed to our vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done.
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