December 6, 2019

New Antibiotics Policy at McDonald’s

Reuters writers Lisa Baertlein and P.J. Huffstutter reported on Wednesday that, “McDonald’s Corp’s U.S. restaurants will gradually stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics vital to fighting human infections, the most aggressive step by a major food company to change chicken producers’ practices in the fight against dangerous ‘superbugs.’

“The world’s biggest restaurant chain announced on Wednesday that within two years, McDonald’s USA will only buy chickens raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine. The concern is that the overuse of antibiotics for poultry may diminish their effectiveness in fighting disease in humans. McDonald’s policy will begin at the hatchery, where chicks are sometimes injected with antibiotics while still in the shell.”

The article added that, “[Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald’s North American supply chain] said McDonald’s expects its suppliers will treat any animals that become ill, using antibiotics when prescribed. McDonald’s, however, will not buy those treated chickens, she said.

“The poultry industry’s lobby takes issue with the concerns of government and academic scientists, saying there is little evidence that bacteria which do become resistant also infect people.”

Wednesday’s article also noted that, “There are exceptions to McDonald’s new policy. The company will buy chicken from farmers who ‘responsibly use’ ionophores, an animal antibiotic not used in human medical treatment, Gross said.

“The phase-out applies only to McDonald’s roughly 14,000 U.S. restaurants. It currently does not affect the company’s approximately 22,000 international restaurants.”

David Kesmodel, Jacob Bunge and Annie Gasparro reported on Wednesday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “While the shift doesn’t apply to its burgers, McDonald’s is now the biggest company to make such a commitment on drug use in livestock.”

The Journal writers noted that, “McDonald’s said it would work with chicken suppliers including Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meatpacker—which said it has already taken steps to curb antibiotics in its birds.”

The Journal article pointed out that, “The announcement comes three days after Steve Easterbrook took over as McDonald’s chief executive, vowing significant change at the fast-food giant to reverse two years of worsening sales declines that culminated in the retirement of his predecessor, Don Thompson . Mr. Easterbrook in recent weeks has told analysts that he sees himself as an ‘internal activist’ who plans to create a ‘modern, progressive burger company.’ Observers have been anticipating possible changes to ingredients to improve consumers’ views of McDonald’s food.”

In addition, the Journal writers stated that, “McDonald’s also said it would offer customers milk products from cows that aren’t treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone. The announcements coincide with a McDonald’s meeting in Las Vegas that includes U.S. franchisees, suppliers and other stakeholders where the burger chain is discussing what it has called its ‘turnaround agenda.'”

A news release from the National Chicken Council on Wednesday included remarks from Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., National Chicken Council vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, who stated that, “The top priority of farmers and chicken companies is to raise healthy chickens, because healthy chickens are directly related to a safe food supply. Responsible, FDA-approved veterinary treatment and prevention benefits animal welfare and human health by reducing the need for increased doses of antibiotics of human importance in the event of widespread disease.

“The vast majority of these antibiotics are never used in humans. McDonald’s, veterinarians and animal scientists recognize their importance to minimize the use of those antibiotics that are important in human medicine.”

In a news release on Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) stated that, “The tide is shifting. The largest restaurant chain in the United States has taken a huge step to eliminate unnecessary antibiotic use in chickens…McDonald’s announcement demonstrates that businesses can be effective partners in ensuring antibiotic use in animals does not affect human health. Public health officials, businesses and farmers must address this issue, and I look forward to working with them to implement further change and combat the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.”

Meanwhile, Kelsey Gee reported on Wednesday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “McDonald’s Corp. ’s announcement that it will curb antibiotic use in its U.S. chicken products raises an obvious question: Where’s the antibiotic-free beef?

“The restaurant company, which became famous for its hamburgers long before it sold chicken sandwiches, unveiled no plans to stop purchasing beef from cattle raised with antibiotics used to treat humans. The same is true for the pork that goes into its sausage patties and Egg McMuffins.

“The decision to start with chicken highlights the complexities of making sweeping changes to a supply chain serving about 14,350 U.S. restaurants, according to meat-industry experts. Antibiotic-free chicken also is more widely available than beef and pork, and chicken costs less.”

Ms. Gee explained that, “Making major changes in the beef supply chain also is more complicated than it is for chicken because beef ranching is highly fragmented, and cattle buyers purchase animals from many different suppliers.

The chicken industry, by contrast, has been vertically integrated for years, with companies like Tyson contracting with farmers to produce chicken for them alone and guiding them on their production, which often includes what the animals are fed. The lifecycle of chickens also is much shorter than for cattle, enabling changes to take effect in the supply chain more quickly.”


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