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All news / Fast food chains and the antibiotic dilemma

  • 12 Sep 2016, 10:05

US fast food giant, McDonalds, has stopped using chicken fed with antibiotics in the US, but has stated that they can't avoid buying chicken with antibiotics in China.

Earlier this year the company released a statement promising to complete “a major commitment to only serve chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine nearly a year ahead of schedule." This change came as a response to continued pressure from consumer groups which demanded that the drugs used in treating diseases in chicken are harmful to human health and should be banned.

Consumer driven change

Now, the charity ShareAction has called on McDonald's - which operates in more than 100 countries - to stop using chicken, beef, pork and dairy products that have been given antibiotics in all of its 30,000 stores globally.

Fast food restaurants have become a focal point for change in the food industry by forcing suppliers to change their practices. According to ShareAction, more than 70% of all antibiotics used in the US are given to livestock.

McDonalds continues antibiotic use in China

In China, however, experts believe that antibiotics can be totally eliminated eventually. Zhu Yi, associate professor of food safety at China Agricultural University, believe that "it is impractical to eliminate the use of antibiotics for now. However, 98% of China's current standards for veterinary drug residues in meat are parallel to or better than international standards," he stated. Furthermore, he explained that McDonald's move in the US could also help to promote more scientific use of antibiotics in China.

McDonald's told news agency, Reuters, that it was too early to set a timeline for phasing out the use of all meat and milk products from animals treated with antibiotics. The company cited varying practices and regulations around the world as one of the difficulties, but added that it "continues to regularly review this issue."

Stance on antibiotic use from rival chains

Competitor fast food chain, KFC, owned by Yum Brands, is also facing renewed pressure to use antibiotic-free chicken like its counterparts Chipotle and Chick-Fil-A. The company has said that by 2017, antibiotics important to human medicine will only be used to maintain chicken health and only under the supervision and prescription of a licensed veterinarian. But critics say that policy effectively allows for routine use of antibiotics by its chicken suppliers.

Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A Inc, which recently surpassed KFC to become the No. 1 fast food chicken chain by revenue in the US, has vowed to fully transition to chicken raised without any antibiotics by the end of 2019. The fifth-largest US fast food chain by revenue, Wendy’s, will quit using chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health by 2017.