McDonald’s to Stop Using Chicken That Has Been Given Antibiotics

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–McDonald’s announced on March 4 new menu sourcing initiatives and said it would only obtain chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine, according to a press release.

In addition, McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. will offer customers milk jugs of low-fat white milk and fat-free chocolate milk from cows that are not treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone.

“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.

“We will continue to look at our food and menu to deliver the kind of great tasting and quality choices that our customers trust and enjoy,” he added.

There is concern that overusing antibiotics to raise chickens for poultry may reduce their ability to fight disease in humans.

“We have a ridiculous dependence on antibiotics,” Steven Roach, from Keep Antibiotics Working, a consumer and advocacy coalition, told USA Today.

“The action by McDonald’s helps to lock in a new mindset and makes it easier for producers and other companies to move forward on a new path.”

According to a report from Reuters, the move is “the most aggressive step by a major food company to force chicken producers to change practices in the fight against dangerous ‘superbugs’".

“Scientists and public health experts say whenever an antibiotic is administered, it kills weaker bacteria and can enable the strongest to survive and multiply. Frequent use of low-dose antibiotics, a practice used by some meat producers, can intensify that effect. The risk, they say, is that so-called ‘superbugs’ might develop cross-resistance to critical, medically important antibiotics,” writes Reuters.

Moreover, there's concern that overuse of antibiotics for poultry may reduce their ability to fight disease in humans.

"We're listening to our customers," Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North American supply chain, told Reuters.

“The company is working with its domestic chicken suppliers, including Tyson Foods Inc, to make the transition,” wrote Reuters.

McDonald’s says it‘s been working closely with farmers for years to “reduce the use of antibiotics in its poultry supply.”

The new policy supports the company’s new Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals. The Global vision was introduced during the first week of March and builds on the company’s 2003 global antibiotics policy. It includes “supplier guidance on the thoughtful use of antibiotics in all food animals,” according to McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has approximately 14,000 U.S. restaurants and says that all the chicken served comes from U.S. farms. The farms are working closely with McDonald’s to implement the new antibiotics policy to the supply chain within the next two years.

“McDonald’s believes that any animals that become ill deserve appropriate veterinary care and our suppliers will continue to treat poultry with prescribed antibiotics, and then they will no longer be included in our food supply,” said Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald’s North America Supply Chain.

She added: “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.”

"I think what McDonald's is doing is trying to play catch-up in an industry that has started to get rid of hormones and antibiotics in a lot of the supply chain proteins, like chicken and beef, so they are playing catch up to brands, like Chipotle, which has really done a great job of bringing better ingredients to the market place," Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of restaurant consulting firm, Technomic, told Reuters.

“With disposable income, consumer confidence, and even unemployment numbers improving dramatically, I think, what we'll see is more Americans going out. McDonald's numbers should get back to flat and, hopefully, improve over the next year or two years.”

McDonald’s also said U.S. restaurants later this year will offer milk jugs – popular choices in Happy Meals – of low-fat white milk and fat-free chocolate milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.

“While no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows, we understand this is something that is important to our customers,” Said Gross.

McDonald’s Corp. same-store sales fell in February more than financial analysts expected. 

Jim Walsh serves as the Mid-Atlantic Region Director for Food & Water Watch, a non-profit public interest group that champions healthy food and clean water for all.

He says the organization has been actively engaged in a campaign to eliminate the use of antibiotics in factory farms and has spearheaded efforts in over 50 municipalities across the country to call the FDA and take action to pass meaningful policies. Food & Water Watch envisions the day when antibiotics are saved for medicine – not factory farms.

“We’re glad to hear McDonald’s realizes the public doesn’t want to buy food from factory farms that overuse antibiotics. But voluntary measures are not enough. It’s time for the FDA to force the meat industry to eliminate its use of harmful antibiotics though enforceable, non-voluntary regulation,” Walsh told New Brunswick Today.

“We can’t rely on a regulatory system that results in voluntary compliance to ensure that we have a sustainable food system.”

The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten health, safety, financial security, or citizens' rights to fully participate in the democracy.

"U.S. PIRG has been running a national campaign asking McDonald’s to help tackle the growing public health crisis of antibiotic resistance by switching to meat raised without the routine use of. There have been ‘super-sized’ responses in communities and on campuses around the nation, and online. From tens of thousands of people emailing the company to a daily dose of online social media posts using the hashtag #McDonaldsSaveABX, the company has heard from both customers and non-buyers urging them to make a change," reads a recent PIRG news release.

A group of Rutgers student volunteers, working with PIRG held an event on March 20, during Spring Break, at the McDonald's on Somerset Street. 

The students thanked the restaurant for their action to help save antibiotics. Using signs, they also thanked McDonald's for its commitment to serve Chicken McNuggets raised without antibiotics.

“This is a super-sized change for McDonald’s, and we’re lovin’ it,” said Sujatha Jahargirdar, U.S. PIRG Antibiotics Program Director.

“They will signal to the marketplace a huge and growing demand for chicken raised  without antibiotics.”

“With more than 23,000 Americans dying each year from antibiotic resistant infections, more must be done to stop the overuse of antibiotics in all meats,” said Becky Erdelyi, a Rutgers junior majoring in Political Science.

"We’re excited to see McDonalds take this foul play seriously, but now it’s time to take it across the country – we need the FDA to ban the overuse of antibiotics in all factory farming.”

“This is my first time going door to door and it’s been an empowering experience,” said sophomore Arielle Mizrahi.

She added: “Anti-biotic resistant diseases are a serious concern for people we’re talking to, and we’ve been able to offer them a real solution that they can do something about.”

"With its new policy, McDonald’s joins companies like Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Elevation Burger, Shake Shack and many others that have made strong commitments to help save antibiotics," says PIRG.

Food & Water Watch  Campaign Organizer, Amy Byrnes, writes: "Factory farms are a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria — superbugs — that are creating a serious public health crisis. Today, 80% of antibiotics used in the U.S. are used on factory farms. It is now common practice on factory farms to feed animals regular, low doses of antibiotics even when they're not sick — largely to compensate for stressful, crowded, filthy conditions.

"Many of these antibiotics are the same drugs that we rely on to treat infections in people. 2 million Americans experience antibiotic-resistant infections every year, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths."

 

Dave is New Brunswick Today's business reporter. He covers Johnson & Johnson, retail and restaurant news including new franchises, development, commercial real estate and the fitness industry.

Dave is a Central NJ-based freelancer, but in his reporting finds himself in other parts of the state, including Mercer County, where he grew up and attended Hightstown High School before going to college in Boston.

When not in the office Dave can be found joining outdoor group runs and walks or at part-time marketing jobs.