On March 4th, 2015, McDonald’s announced a new policy to curb the overuse of antibiotics in raising the chickens that become their McNuggets and other chicken products. Within two years, the farming operations supplying McDonald’s USA restaurants will not be allowed to use medically important antibiotics (those used in human medicine) on their chickens -- a practice that is now commonplace, even when animals are healthy.
Activist organizations and others across the nation have hailed the move a ‘supersized’ step towards saving antibiotics, but they note that in order to win the fight against superbugs, we must also see similar goals for beef and pork.
McDonald’s sells enough fast food to make them the 68th largest economy in the world—larger than Ecuador’s. As one of the nation’s largest purchasers of meat, their commitment could vastly increase the demand for chicken raised without antibiotics.
“This is a super-sized change for McDonald’s, and we’re lovin’ it,” said Sujatha Jahagirdar, U.S. PIRG Stop Antibiotics Overuse Program Director. “The new policy will signal to the marketplace a huge and growing demand for chicken raised without antibiotics.”
But, why is this so important? Well, for decades, researchers have warned that the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry operations lead to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs – infections that kill an estimated 23,000 Americans per year now and up to millions a year within a few decades.
Research beginning as early as the 1970’s show that low-dose antibiotic use on farms —to promote growth and prevent, rather than treat specific, infections — can create resistant bacteria. These bacteria infect humans directly through water, air, and food and can pass their resistance DNA to other bacteria.
With overuse so rampant, antibiotic resistance is a global crisis -- one so serious that the Department of Defense is involved in monitoring and controlling the spread of such diseases.
That is why McDonald’s commitment to stop buying chicken raised with medically-important antibiotics is such an important step forward. This action alone could help reduce the use of antibiotics in the poultry industry. The less these life-saving drugs are misused and overused on farms, the better chance we have of preserving them for generations to come.
So, while committing antibiotic-free standards to chicken is a momentous step in the right direction, more must be done to stop the overuse of antibiotics in all meats; McDonald’s has not set a timeline for serving beef and pork raised without medically-important antibiotics. Said Jahagirdar, “we’re thrilled with the McDonalds’ announcement today, but we don’t want them to chicken out when it comes to setting a policy for beef and pork.”
"We're listening to our customers" said Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North American supply chain. So, let's make sure they hear us recognizing how important their action is -- and encourage them to keep moving forward. I've sent them a thank you message here, will you join me?
(Want to know more? WIRED magazine compiled a long archive of related stories here.)