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Responsible Investing Advocates Want McDonald’s to “Stop Supersizing Antibiotic Resistance”

Charity Seeks to Fight the Growing Use of Dangerous, Drug-Resistant Bacteria
McDonald's
New Brunswick is home to one McDonald's restaurant on Somerset Street. Google Maps

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ--A charity fighting to curtail the rise of dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria in milk and meat products served at all McDonald’s restaurants, announced a crowdsourcing campaign on August 4.

The charity, UK-based ShareAction, has a vision: all corporate investments should be socially responsible.

It's launched an online movement making it easy for people to email McDonald's Corp. CEO Steve Easterbrook and urge him to stop the regular use of antibiotics in the company’s global livestock supply chains.

"Tell McDonald's: Don’t supersize antibiotics," writes ShareAction.

While McDonald’s has set promising targets to address, antibiotic "over-use in American and European poultry supply chains," the fast food giant has failed to tackle use in beef, pork or dairy supply chains, says the charity.

"McDonald’s is pumping antibiotics into the meats used to make its famous burgers," states ShareAction.

"The World Health Organization has warned that this practice could push us into a ‘post antibiotic era,’ in which the drugs we rely on for routine medical treatments no longer work," and although investors have voiced their concerns -- McDonald's doesn't listen.

The corporation says it continues to regularly review the antibiotic issue, but says it's not possible to set a date to restrict the use of antibiotics in meats other than chicken, citing global agricultural regulations. 

ShareAction analyzes competition and the behavior of large investors to publish policy recommendations intended to change the rules of any system and drive up standards.

"We bring together investors, organizations and individual savers into powerful networks that take action and drive change," promises the charity.

As much as 70% of the antibiotics used in the US and half used in the UK are given to livestock, says the charity.

Moreover, the UK government recently described the practice as "excessive and inappropriate," adds ShareAction, citing a paper's finding that drug-resistant infections could cost the world about $100 trillion in lost output by 2050.

In April, well capitalized investors, together with nine other US and UK companies, wrote to McDonald's requesting an end to the routine use of antibiotics vital to human health in global meat and poultry supply chains, says ShareAction.

The investors are supported by ShareAction and the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) initiative, a collaborative investor network that aims to raise awareness of the material impacts farm animal welfare issues can have on their investments. 

"[Over a third] of McDonalds shareholders recently voted in favour of a shareholder proposal coordinated by US shareholder activism groups As You Sow and ICCR, which called for an end to the routine use of medically important antibiotics. [But], so far the company has failed to provide a meaningful response to that suggestion," says ShareAction.

ShareAction CEO Catherine Howarth said that investors are right to let the board of McDonald’s know of their concern, and that it's now time for others to do the same using the new web tool.

"Improved animal welfare practices are a [better] way to prevent disease than antibiotic overuse. We hope this action will encourage McDonald’s to supersize their ambition." 

ShareAction's vision is also built on protecting the environment "for the long term."

The "factory farming campaign focuses on addressing the financial risks of intensive livestock rearing and promotes the opportunities of transitioning to a sustainable food system," says the charity. 

Last year, McDonald's said it would stop using chicken given antibiotics, and shift to using only cage free eggs over the next decade.    

Emma Rose of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, a coalition of 45 health, medical, farming, environmental and civil society organizations from across the European Union said: "If we do not curb the... excessive use of antibiotics, both in medicine and in livestock production, we face a global public health crisis."

"McDonald’s has an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership by committing to phase out the routine use of antibiotics entirely – not just limited to chicken in its US market,"  said Rose.

Restaurant rival Wendy's Co. reportedly announced that, by 2017,  it will stop using chickens raised with antibiotics and also said it will specify goals for pork and beef production next year.