Wendy’s Quietly Getting Rid Of Antibiotics In Chicken

Image courtesy of JeepersMedia

The same week that McDonald’s publicly touted that its chicken menu items are now 100% free of antibiotics, Wendy’s quietly changed its policies to establish a timeline for ridding its birds of antibiotics that are deemed medically important to humans.

Unless you’re a regular reader of Wendy’s Antibiotic Use And Policy Guidelines, you probably missed a recent update where the fast food chain confirmed that its goal is to eliminate “all antibiotics important to human medicine from chicken production” in 2017.

Wendy’s began testing antibiotic-free chicken a year ago, but its lack of a timeline or firm policy for reducing the use of these drugs meant the company was one of more than a dozen fast food chains receiving a grade of “F” on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s antibiotics policy report card.

The company tells Reuters that around half of its chicken are now drug-free, and that it should complete the transition in the coming year.

What remains to be seen is what Wendy’s and others will do about the use of antibiotics in beef and pork. Chickens can grow to full size within a couple of months, but it takes a lot longer for pigs and cattle to reach that point. These larger animals are also sometimes passed from one owner to another during their lifetime. Thus, making the switch to antibiotic-free beef will likely take longer than it has for poultry.

That said, Wendy’s claims that it is studying how to reduce antibiotic use in both beef and pork and that in 2017 it will commit to specific reduction goals.

Antibiotics sold to farm animals account for around 75% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S., and many of these drugs are not medically necessary. Instead, they are put in animal feed and water at sub-therapeutic levels because their use can promote growth, resulting in bigger chickens, cows, and pigs.

At the same time, overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the increasing number of drug-resistant superbugs. More than 2 million Americans are infected with resistant pathogens each year, and around 20-25% of those are from food-borne bacteria.

Facing stricter regulations on the use of antibiotics in livestock, and a growing demand from consumers for drug-free meat, Bloomberg reports that the pharmaceuticals industry is looking to pivot farmers and ranchers away from some antibiotics and toward vaccines.