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A recent action by the Consumers Association of India, Chennai. (Photo: Consumers International/Facebook)

Global Actions Demand Fast Food Giants Get Antibiotics 'Off the Menu'

Despite worldwide concern about the overuse of antibiotics, their use in agriculture is due to increase by two-thirds by 2030

Deirdre Fulton

In light of the public health risks associated with increasing antibiotic resistance, activists in 60 countries are celebrating World Consumer Rights Day by calling on fast-food companies to get antibiotics "off the menu."

The worldwide actions, organized by the London-headquartered Consumers International (CI), call specifically on McDonald's, Subway, and KFC to make "global, time bound commitments to stop serving meat from animals routinely given antibiotics that are classed as important for human medicine by the World Health Organization."

As CI director general Amanda Long wrote Monday at the Huffington Post:

McDonald's has made such a commitment on chicken in USA and Canada. The commitment does not extend to other types of meat however, nor to other countries outside of North America. Subway has committed to stop serving meat from any animal given antibiotics in the USA. KFC has made no meaningful commitments anywhere.

Of course we would like to see other restaurant chains, as well as meat suppliers and retailers, make global time bound commitments to stop selling meat from animals routinely given antibiotics important for human medicine. We are focusing on these three chains because they have over 100,000 restaurants between them. It is about more than simple buying power however, these are global household names with the ability to influence markets even where they have fewer outlets.

In February, a coalition of more than 50 public health, environmental, and consumer rights groups issued a similar demand to In-N-Out Burger, California's hamburger restaurant chain.

A report (pdf) issued late last month by CI stated that: "Despite worldwide concern about the overuse of antibiotics, their use in agriculture is due to increase by two thirds by 2030: from 63,200 tons in 2010, to 105,600 tons in 2030."

This is cause for alarm because antibiotic resistant bacteria spreads from farms to people through air, soil, water, manure, and the consumption of medicine-treated meat and animal products.

Meanwhile, Guardian reporter Alison Moodie wrote on Monday:

Drug-resistant infections currently kill an estimated 700,000 people worldwide each year. If efforts to curb antibiotic resistance fail, this number could increase to 10 million by 2050, surpassing the 8.2 million deaths a year caused by cancer, according to a global report commissioned by the UK government. The economic impact would also be devastating: the report estimates a cost of $100tn of global GDP over the next 35 years.

"We're already in a post-antibiotic world," Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist and author of Rising Plague, which outlines the problem of antibiotic resistance, told Moodie. "We already have patients who are untreatable."

CI is joined by WHO director general Margaret Chan in arguing that the corporations themselves are "in a strong position to set the standard for their industry globally and drive a decrease in agricultural use of antibiotics, faster than legislative change alone," as Long put it in her op-ed Monday.

And as Chan told an international audience last year, "consumer groups and civil society" wield the power to force such critical changes. "They are important movers, shakers, and front-line players, especially in this age of social media," she said. "Consumers who question the safety of food produced from heavily-medicated animals, and make purchasing decisions accordingly, can have a profound impact on industry practices."

Follow the day of action online with the hashtag #AntibioticsOffTheMenu.


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