McDonald’s, the world’s largest and most iconic burger restaurant chain, today announced it will address antibiotics use across its global beef supply chain by 2021. The new policy directs its global suppliers to reduce use of the drugs in beef produced for the company, with implementation beginning next year with pilot projects in 10 markets around the world, including the U.S. The Natural Resources Defense Council has been a stakeholder engaged on the policy since early 2018.
McDonald’s is the first major burger chain to announce a comprehensive antibiotic use reduction policy for all beef sold by its restaurants—and the largest, by far. It joins a small group of other fast food industry leaders that have either cut antibiotic use in their beef supplies or are committed to do so, including Chipotle, Panera and Subway.
A statement follows from Lena Brook, Interim Director of Food and Agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“This important step forward raises the bar for other burger chains and sends an unmistakable market signal to beef producers worldwide. Nobody in the world sells more burgers than McDonald’s, and their actions can shape the future of the industry. With Washington asleep at the wheel on this rising health threat, leadership in the marketplace is essential. We will be watching with great interest to see how this policy unfolds.”
More medically important antibiotics are sold for use in cows than people or any other animal. In the U.S., about 95 percent of drugs given to livestock and poultry are routinely distributed en masse in feed or water—often to animals that are not sick to help them survive crowded and unsanitary conditions on industrial farms.
This practice contributes to the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and increases the risk of drug-resistant infections in humans. Leading medical experts warn that we must stop overuse of antibiotics in human medicine and animal agriculture, or else the life-saving drugs we rely on to treat common infections and enable medical procedures could increasingly stop working.
Conservatively, at least 2 million Americans are already infected with antibiotic-resistant infections every year, and at least 23,000 die as a direct result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than half of the U.S. chicken industry—spurred by commitments from fast food chains and meat producers—is now under a commitment to address antibiotics overuse in its supply chain.
The beef industry, in contrast, has taken very little action to date. With 43 percent of medically important antibiotics sold to the U.S. livestock sector going to the beef industry—compared to only 6 percent for chicken—addressing overuse in beef production is critical to combat drug resistance.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.