Will the "Golden Arches" go antibiotic-free?

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group is calling on McDonald's to stop purchasing meat from animals raised using antibiotics. Photo credit: Alvimann/morguefile.

By Mary Kuhlman

The company known for its Golden Arches is being asked to make its burgers, chicken nuggets and other menu items antibiotic-free.

It's estimated that nearly 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in raising livestock and poultry.

McDonald's sells more than 1 billion pounds of beef each year, and Pamela Clough, campaign coordinator of the Stop Antibiotics Overuse Campaign with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says if the fast-food giant required its suppliers to stop raising meat with antibiotics, it would prompt sweeping changes in the industry.

"If they were to make this change, it would be the equivalent of banning antibiotics in meat production in a small country," Clough points out. "And so, if they make this commitment, it could really change the paradigm of the market and make antibiotic-free meat more affordable and more accessible for everybody."

Some medical experts maintain the overuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic-resistant infections that are serious public health threats.

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections sicken 2 million people each year, and claim the lives of about 23,000.

Other restaurants, including Panera and Chipotle, say they already use only antibiotic-free meats, and the Chick-fil-A chain has made a commitment to only purchase chicken raised without antibiotics by 2020.

In 2003, McDonald's implemented a policy about antibiotics, but Clough says it didn't go far enough.

"It only applied to some suppliers, and didn't require even these suppliers to only purchase meat raised without antibiotics," she explains. "It had to do with antibiotics used for growth promotion versus disease prevention. In the end, we need stronger action."

According to its website, McDonald's will release an updated version of its policy this year.

The company announced last year that it will start transitioning to sustainable beef by 2016, but wasn't specific about its definition of sustainable.


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