Activist Investors Call On KFC To Phase Out Antibiotics In Chickens

Image courtesy of Scott Ableman

With Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Papa John’s, and Subway all making an effort to curb antibiotics overuse in chicken and other animals, some investors of Yum Brands say it’s time for KFC to do its part.

In fact, KFC’s corporate cousins at Taco Bell and Pizza Hut have already made varying commitments to cut down on antibiotics in chicken. Pizza Hut announced in May that it was going to phase out antibiotics in the chicken meat it uses for pizza toppings. A month earlier, Taco Bell confirmed it would stop using antibiotics in chickens in the first quarter of 2017.

With that in mind, the activist investors at As You Sow and Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia this week called on Yum to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics in the chickens it sources.

Overuse of antibiotics in both humans and farm animals has been repeatedly connected to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. More than 2 million Americans are infected with resistant pathogens each year, and upwards of 25% of those cases are from food-borne bacteria.

Additionally, antibiotics sold to farm animals account for around 70-75% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S., but many of these drugs are not being provided to treat disease. Instead, the drugs are put in animal feed and water at sub-therapeutic levels because their use can promote tissue growth, resulting in bigger chickens, cows, and pigs.

In its shareholder resolution [PDF], As You Sow makes the case that American customers now want antibiotic-free meat, and KFC may be shooting itself in the foot by not addressing the issue.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about injudicious antibiotic use. Without meaningful action, Yum! Brands will lose market share to companies who have stronger policies in place,” reads the resolution, pointing to antibiotics reduction policies from McDonald’s, Chipotle, Chick fil-A and others.

It took the federal government more than three decades to do anything of note about antibiotics overuse in livestock, but most insiders believe that farmers, rancher, and pharmaceutical companies are only going to face increased scrutiny in the years to come.

The As You Sow resolution argues that a strong antibiotics-reduction policy from KFC “will prepare Yum! Brands suppliers to comply more effectively with a shifting federal regulatory landscape.”

As Reuters notes, KFC’s only commitment thus far has been to say that — by 2017 — when its birds are given antibiotics deemed medically important to humans, it will be done under the supervision and prescription of a licensed veterinarian.

However, if that oversight doesn’t result in a reduction in the amount of antibiotics provided to these chickens, this policy won’t quell concerns about the overuse of these vital drugs.