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McDonald's Says It Will Trim Antibiotics in Beef

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Dec. 13, 2018 -- McDonald's is launching a policy to cut the use of antibiotics important to human health in its global beef supply chain, the burger giant announced.

"With our new policy, McDonald's is doing our part to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for human and animal health in the future," its news release reads.

McDonald's says the policy has been in the works for the past year and a half. Tuesday's announcement comes after an unfavorable report from six consumer groups in mid-October, finding that only two of 25 U.S. burger chains surveyed earned an A for serving beef raised without the routine use of antibiotics. One earned a D-minus, and the 22 others surveyed, including McDonald's, got an F.

"It's definitely a very promising first step," Shelby Luce says of the new policy. She is a coauthor of the October report and a member of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group antibiotics team, one of the consumer groups issuing the October report, "Chain Reaction IV: Burger Edition."

McDonald's Plan

The plan will be rolled out over several years.

The first step is to partner with beef producers in the top 10 sourcing markets to measure and understand the use of antibiotics in its global suppliers.

By the end of 2020, the chain will set goals to cut the use of medically important antibiotics in these markets.

By 2022, McDonald's says it will report progress on these goals across those top 10 beef sourcing markets.

The company says it aims to use antibiotics responsibly, cut their use, and ultimately replace them with long-term solutions. But animals will be treated with antibiotics when needed, it says.

The company says it will announce more details later, and it declined to give a target date to achieve what it says is appropriate antibiotic use.

In 2016, the chain pledged to not serve chicken treated with antibiotics crucial to human health in U.S. restaurants.

Infectious Disease Perspective

Aaron Glatt, MD, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, agrees the new policy is a good first step.

"Anything that will limit inappropriate use of antibiotics in animals would be very welcome by the infectious disease community," says Glatt, who’s also chairman of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, NY. "They should move with alacrity," he says of restaurants serving meats.

The growth and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a health crisis globally, experts say. About 2 million people in the U.S. develop a resistant infection each year, and about 23,000 die of it, the CDC estimates.  

Responsible use of antibiotics by meat producers who sell to fast-food restaurants would help the problem tremendously, experts agree.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on December 13, 2018

Sources

News release, McDonald's, Dec. 11, 2018.

CDC: “Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance.”

Shelby Luce, U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Aaron Glatt, MD, Infectious Diseases Society of America spokesman; chairman of medicine, South Nassau Communities Hospital, Oceanside, NY.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund, et. al.: “Chain Reaction IV: Burger Edition: How Top Restaurants Rate on Reducing Antibiotic Use in Their Meat Supply Chains. Oct. 2018.”

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