Yonkers, N.Y.-based Consumer Reports praised McDonald’s December 11 announcement that it plans to reduce the routine use of medically important antibiotics by its global beef suppliers, a practice that public health experts warn contributes to the creation and spread of dangerous drug-resistant bacteria, sometimes known as superbugs.
“The antibiotics we all depend on are losing their power to treat disease because they’ve been misused for so long,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumer Reports. “If McDonald’s successfully leverages its enormous buying power to require beef suppliers to use antibiotics more responsibly, it will set an example that other chain restaurants should follow. The ultimate impact of McDonald’s efforts will depend on the antibiotic reduction targets it will develop in the next two years and we’ll be watching that closely to ensure they are truly meaningful. But McDonald’s deserves praise for stepping up and trying to use its market power to address this growing public health crisis.”
Under the new policy, McDonald’s beef suppliers will not be allowed to use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion. Medically important antibiotics also cannot be used routinely for disease prevention, although they could be used under the guidance of a veterinarian in limited circumstances for controlling a disease outbreak.
Beginning December 2018, McDonald’s will gather information from the top 10 countries that supply its beef to establish a baseline understanding of the amount and type of antibiotics being used and will begin pilot projects for use reduction. By the end of 2020, it will establish antibiotic reduction targets for these suppliers. Starting at the end of 2022, it will begin publicly reporting its progress in meeting these targets. Consumer Reports called on McDonald’s to commit to using an independent auditor to monitor its progress in meeting the antibiotic reduction goals it establishes.
“We’re happy to see this is a global approach,” Halloran said. “Superbugs don’t respect national borders. There must be reductions in animal antibiotic use internationally to prevent the proliferation and spread of dangerous bacteria from other countries.”
Last October, McDonald’s earned an “F” grade in the annual Chain Reaction scorecard released by Consumer Reports and other groups, which graded the top 25 burger chains on their antibiotics policies and practices for beef. McDonald’s was not alone: 22 of the top 25 burger chains received failing grades. Two smaller chains – Shake Shack and Burger Fi – earned “A” grades for serving only burgers raised without antibiotics.
At the time, the groups called on McDonald’s and the other major burger chains to commit to sourcing beef from producers who use antibiotics under the guidance of a licensed veterinarian, and only to treat animals with a diagnosed illness or, in limited circumstances, to control a verified disease outbreak.
The beef industry has made only limited efforts to reduce antibiotics use, and as of 2016, beef accounted for 43% of all sales in the U.S. of medically important antibiotics for animal use, more than any other animal species. Most cattle raised for beef come from large industrial feedlots where they are routinely dosed with antibiotics to keep them healthy in crowded, stressful, and disease promoting conditions.
A 2018 Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of 1,014 U.S. adults found that 78% of respondents agreed that meat producers should stop giving antibiotics to animals that aren’t sick; 59% said they would be more likely to eat at a restaurant that serves meat raised without antibiotics.