Consumer groups petition fast-food chains to reduce antibiotic use

The Wisconsin Gazette

Consumer health and food safety groups this week called on 16 fast-food restaurants to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply.

Medical experts say the overuse of antibiotics in livestock poses a public health threat by increasing the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacteria.

The 16 restaurants petitioned by the organizations received “F” grades for failing to take steps to end the misuse of medical important antibiotics in the Chain Reaction scorecard, a report published by the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, NRDC and Food Animals Concerns Trust.

A statement from the coalition this week says Burger King received an F and, despite an announcement in December to make certain changes regarding antibiotics in the chicken supply chain, still lags far behind McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has removed medically important antibiotics from its chicken supply chain, but Burger King has committed to removing only limited group of antibiotics classified as “critically important” to human medicine, by the end of 2017.

“The global increase in antibiotic-resistant infections is a public health disaster, and it is essential that our biggest restaurant chains do their part to address this growing problem right away,” said Cameron Harsh of the Center for Food Safety.

The petition effort is the latest in a series of campaigns intended to pressure such companies as KFC, Olive Garden, Chili’s and Starbucks to help protect public health and animal welfare by committing to meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics.

The performance of these companies contrasts sharply with nine of the largest chains — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle and Panera, which received passing grades in the report.

“KFC and the other restaurants that received failing grades are making our antibiotics crisis worse,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports. “Antibiotics should only be used to treat disease, not wasted on healthy animals or to compensate for filthy conditions on factory farms. It’s time for restaurants to help protect public health by demanding that their suppliers end the irresponsible use of these important medications.”

“When consumers eat a chicken sandwich they shouldn’t have to worry that doing so is potentially undermining antibiotics. They should just enjoy the sandwich,” said Matthew Wellington, field director of the antibiotics program for U.S. PIRG. “More major chains like KFC need to act on antibiotics. We simply cannot afford to lose the foundations of modern medicine.”

Consumer advocacy and food safety groups say that in the absence of mandatory government regulations on agricultural uses of antibiotics in the United States, restaurants should demonstrate their commitment to public health by ending the misuse of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply chains.

Some background on the issue…

Most meat served by U.S. chain restaurants comes from animals raised in factory farms. The animals often are fed antibiotics to prevent diseases that occur in crowded, unsanitary living conditions and also to promote faster growth.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regularly dosing animals with antibiotics contributes to rising cases of infections in humans that are resistant to important medicines.

The spread of resistant pathogens means that infections are harder to treat, require longer hospitalizations, and pose greater risk of death. World Health Organization reports that “antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.”