SALEM, Ohio – Fast food giant McDonald’s asked its meat suppliers last week to phase out use of certain animal antibiotics and to reduce other antibiotic use.
“McDonald’s is asking producers who supply more than 2.5 billion pounds of chicken, beef and pork annually to take actions that will ultimately help protect public health,” said Frank Muschetto, a McDonald’s senior vice president.
“We take seriously our obligation to understand the emerging science of antibiotic resistance,” Muschetto said.
There is mounting evidence of a relationship between antimicrobial use in animals and the increase in bacterial resistance in humans.
Antibiotics, which affect only bacteria, are one type of antimicrobial.
Antibiotics coalition. Since last July, McDonald’s has been working with Environmental Defense, Elanco Animal Health, Tyson Foods and Cargill through an antibiotics coalition.
The announcement came with the unveiling of the company’s global policy on antibiotics that also creates a set of standards for McDonald’s direct meat suppliers.
Direct suppliers are those who control the stages of animal production where antibiotic use decisions are made. The majority of McDonald’s worldwide poultry supply falls into this category.
Tyson Foods spokesman Archie Schaffer said the issue of antibiotic use in poultry production is important.
He said it is critical for the poultry industry to use antibiotics in a manner that “preserves their long-term effectiveness on both human and veterinary medicine.”
Tyson is a direct supplier of poultry to McDonald’s.
Where’s the science? The Coalition for Animal Health faults McDonald’s move as bypassing the U.S. regulatory process.
“In this market-based, rather than science-based policy, the products McDonald’s is asking suppliers not to use have been subjected to the Food and Drug Administration approval process and proven to be safe,” said a coalition statement last Thursday.
“We caution about actions not grounded in science,” the statement added.
The coalition includes national associations of beef, chicken, pork, turkey and sheep as well as the American Feed Industry Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association and other allied associations.
Dave White, executive director of the Ohio Livestock Coalition, echoed those sentiments.
“There’s a valid concern, but only science will be able to give us the answer,” White said. “And it’s not really a simple question to answer.”
“We’re better off having healthy animals than treating sick ones,” he added, referring to reports of increased antibiotic use in Europe.
Compliance. Under McDonald’s new policy, direct suppliers must certify annual compliance, including the sustainable use guiding principles and the elimination of growth promotion uses of antibiotics approved for use in human medicine.
They must keep records of antibiotics use and make them available for company audits.
McDonald’s encouraged indirect suppliers, which includes most beef and pork suppliers, to also follow the policy.
European push. McDonald’s U.S. policy follows similar efforts in Europe.
McDonald’s Europe began phasing out growth promoting antibiotics in 2000. By the end of 2001, all European-based suppliers for poultry had eliminated these antibiotics for use in chicken feed.
In 2001, McDonald’s USA discontinued uses of the antibiotic class of fluoroquinolones with its poultry supply.
Not all rosy. The Coalition for Animal health cautioned that following in Europe’s footsteps could be costly.
“Many European countries have documented a dramatic increase in animal disease and the use of antibiotics to treat that disease,” a coalition statement said last week.
“As Europe is discovering, nonscience-based policies often have unintended consequences.”
It’s coming. The Keep Antibiotics Working campaign applauded McDonald’s announcement and are pushing other fast food chains to follow suit.
“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Margaret Mellon, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Now it’s time for Burger King and the other fast food chains to step up to the plate.”
A campaign news release also indicated that Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is expected to introduce legislation to phase out nontherapeutic uses in farm animals of all antibiotics that are similar to human medicines.
Antibiotic use down. Data released last fall from animal health companies show that the volume of antibiotics used in animals in the U.S. declined over the past three years.
In 2001, 21.8 million pounds of antibiotics were sold, dropping from 23.7 million pounds in 2000 and 24 million in 19991.
The data were collected from a survey of members of the Animal Health Institute and included antibiotics used for both farm and companion animals.
AVMA stance. Earlier this year, the American Veterinary Medical Association board approved a detailed position statement on the use of antimicrobials in livestock feeds.
While the statement urges veterinarians to use antimicrobials wisely and reduce their use as appropriate, the association also emphasized that bans of an entire class of use, for growth promotion or prevention, “is not justified by scientific evidence.”
Marketing ploy? Ohio Livestock Coalition’s Dave White questioned whether McDonald’s is doing this as a marketing ploy.
“Is it a part of a strategy for them to be accepted in certain parts of the world?” White said. “They do what they believe is right for the company, not only the customers, but their stockholders.”
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!