Wendy’s Finally Begins Testing Antibiotic-Free Chicken

(Photo: Consumerist)

(Photo: Consumerist)

More than a year after Chick fil-A began its transition away from drugged-up chickens, and months after McDonald’s announced its plans to eventually go the antibiotic-free route, Wendy’s — the one major burger chain with ads that tout its better, more natural ingredients — is finally dipping its toes into the no-antibiotics pool.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wendy’s will begin the test this week of antibiotic-free chicken products in a few locations in Orlando; Gainesville, FL; Kansas City, MO; and Austin.

The company says the test is being done in response to rising customer demand for meat sourced from animals not raised on steady diets of low-dose antibiotics.

To run through it one more time. Many farmers feed their chickens, pigs, and cows continual, sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics, primarily because it encourages tissue growth. Unfortunately, this overuse of antibiotics has the unintended result of creating new, drug-resistant “super bugs” that require stronger antibiotics to fight.

Antibiotics sold for use on farm animals account for around 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. In late 2013, the FDA asked drug makers to stop selling the drugs that were solely for growth-promotion, but since most livestock antibiotics were approved for both therapeutic and growth-promotion purposes, this really only required farmers to change the reason they purchased the drugs, not the amount they used.

Under increased pressure from doctors, scientists, public health advocates, and a growing number of consumers, several large companies are making the switch to drug-free, especially for chickens.

Both Perdue and Tyson have made commitments to drastically reducing the drugs given to their birds, while restaurant chains like Chipotle, Panera, Chick fil-A, McDonald’s (and hopefully Wendy’s) have helped nudge demand. A coalition of 50 different groups recently petitioned Subway in the hope of getting the company to source antibiotic-free meat.

A Wendy’s exec tells the Journal that the company’s decision to expand the test will depend on customers’ response.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union expressed some cautious optimism about today’s news.

“It’s great to see Wendy’s giving consumers what they want: meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics,” says Meg Bohne, director of CU’s Meat Without Drugs campaign. “We hope to see this chicken become a permanent fixture on their menus across the country.”

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