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The announcement is "good news for McDonald's customers and anyone else who might someday need an effective antibiotic."—Jonathan Kaplan, NRDC(Photo:  Live4Soccer(L4S)/flickr/cc)

Why McDonald's Announcement on Chicken Is Important for Everyone's Health

Fast food chain announces phase-out of antibiotic-treated chicken

Andrea Germanos

Chicken McNuggets might not be part of your diet, but a new announcement from McDonald's could have an impact on your health.

According to a statement issued Wednesday, the roughly 14,000 farms that supply chicken to U.S. locations of the fast food restaurant have a two-year window to stop the use of antibiotics that are important to human health. Chickens treated with a type of antibiotic not used on humans, ionophores, will continue to be allowed.

The company said the change, which follows similar moves by companies like Panera Bread and Chipotle, was an effort "to better meet the changing preferences and expectations of today’s customers."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have warned of an alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria or "superbugs"—a problem fueled by livestock farms, where up to 80 percent of all antibiotics are used.

Given that link, Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s Food and Agriculture program, called the news "a landmark announcement in the fight to keep life-saving antibiotics working for us and our children." Because of the "company’s massive purchasing power and iconic brand, we may be at a tipping point for better antibiotic stewardship in the poultry industry," he added.

Kaplan further explained that it's "good news for McDonald's customers and anyone else who might someday need an effective antibiotic."

Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth, echoed that sentiment, stating, "We also hope this plan will convince the livestock industry to stop its misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture; which has been a key contributor to antibiotic resistance."

The organizations added their hopes that McDonald's move on poultry was just a first step, and that it would be making the same demands of its beef and pork supplies.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, also said the phase-out was a good development, but said it pointed to a failing at the federal level.

"It’s past time for the FDA to force the meat industry to eliminate its use of harmful antibiotics though enforceable, non-voluntary regulation," Hauter stated.

NRDC's Kaplan also notes how McDonald's new plan falls short. He writes:

Unfortunately, the company also published a disappointing "Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals" that sadly does little to improve the company's 2003 policy. While it looks like McDonald's invested quite a bit effort in developing it, the policy contains a giant loophole: Use of medically important antibiotics is allowed for "disease prevention" with no real limit on how much or how often these drugs can be administered. That's the same loophole that undermines FDA's current voluntary guidelines. McDonald's spokespeople described the "Global Vision" to NRDC as a "framework" for guiding more specific initiatives in different regions. That doesn't bode well for getting all routine uses of antibiotics out of their global supply chains.

The announcement comes the same week as McDonald's ushers in a new chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, who has said he wants to create a "modern, progressive burger company."

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