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McDonald’s announces plan to cut overuse of antibiotics in chicken

Action hailed as ‘super-sized’ step in saving antibiotics; early reports indicate need for timeline on beef and pork
For Immediate Release

McDonald’s announced a new policy today to curb the overuse of antibiotics in raising the chickens that ultimately become McNuggets or other McDonald’s products.   Within two years, farming operations supplying McDonald’s USA restaurants will not be allowed to administer medically important antibiotics to chickens, a practice that is commonplace, even when animals are healthy. 

“This is a super-sized change for McDonald’s, and we’re lovin’ it,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG. “They will signal to the marketplace a huge and growing demand for chicken raised without the use of medically important antibiotics.” 

McDonald’s is one of the nation’s largest purchasers of meat, and their commitment will vastly increase the demand for chicken raised without routine antibiotics. McDonald’s sells enough fast food to make them the 68th largest economy in the world—larger than Ecuador. 

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state PIRGs around the country, 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 antibiotics. 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 customers and others urging them to make a change. 

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.

However, early reports indicate McDonald’s did not set a timeline for serving beef and pork raised without the routine use of 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 Emily Rusch at CALPIRG. “We’re thrilled with the McDonalds’ announcement today, but we don’t want them to chicken out when it comes to setting a policy for beef and pork.”

Up to 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold for use on livestock, not humans, and the misuse of antibiotics can lessen their effectiveness. Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown called for legislative action to stop the routine use of antibiotics in a veto message last fall. CALPIRG has been working with allies and stakeholders to craft a strong statewide policy for California.

“Today’s announcement shows that companies like McDonalds realize that the public is uncomfortable with the amount of antibiotics used in meat production and wants a change,” said Rusch. “To protect public health, the California legislature should act to end the routine use of antibiotics in livestock. We need this critical medicine to remain effective for Californians and our families.”   

To read more about this issue, check out our reports: 

Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Livestock: The Case for Reform
Weak Medicine: Why the FDA's Guidelines Are Inadequate to Curb Antibiotic Resistance and Protect Public Health
Prescription for Change: Antibiotics Use in Humans and Animals Amidst Growing Concerns of Doctors

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