The May 26 article in Farm and Dairy, “McDonald’s asks meat suppliers to limit antibiotics,” states that McDonald’s policy announcement was based on marketing objectives, rather than on good science.
This is far from true, however, as the policy conclusions of numerous, highly credible scientific institutions demonstrate.
For example, Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response (2003), a National Academy of Sciences report, recommended that “FDA should ban the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion in animals if those classes of antimicrobials are also used in humans.”
After a two-year review of more than 500 published studies, a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Infectious Diseases concluded that “the elimination of nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animals and in agriculture will lower the burden of antimicrobial resistance in the environment, with consequent benefits to human and animal health.”
Similarly, the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and numerous other mainstream health groups have stated publicly that antibiotic use in healthy animals increases the threat of antibiotic resistance in human infections and should be reduced or eliminated.
The article also inaccurately claims that agricultural use of antibiotics in Europe increased following the phaseout. Reliable data on European agricultural use of antibiotics are available only for Denmark (the world’s largest exporter of pork), and those data show precisely the opposite.
Indeed, Denmark’s data show that overall use of antibiotics has fallen by 54 percent since the phase out, even though meat-production levels have risen. Levels of resistant bacteria in animals have likewise fallen dramatically.
While Denmark has seen an increase in use of antibiotics to treat diarrhea in piglets immediately after weaning, only a minority of piglets require such treatment, and only for a matter of a few days.
It is clearly much smarter to give antibiotics to a small number of animals for a short period than to dose all animals throughout all or much of their lives.
McDonald’s deserves praise for this important, scientifically sound step, which will reduce antibiotic overuse and pave the way for sensible national policies to end inappropriate antibiotic use in animal agriculture.
(The author is the Environmental Health Program Director at the Environmental Defense Department in Washington.)