While a handful of fast food chains have made at least some commitment to reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock, the majority of these restaurants still have no policy when it comes to this issue. This morning, CEOs of those companies are receiving a petition signed by more than 125,000, asking them to do their part to help prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Last September, a coalition of public health advocates — including our colleagues at Consumers Union — put out their latest report card, grading fast food and restaurant chains on their antibiotics policies. Sixteen of the 25 companies included on the scorecard received “F” grades because they have made no apparent effort to address concerns raised by customers, physicians, and the scientific community that the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is contributing to the development of pathogens that are resistant to being treated with traditional antibiotics.
In response to the scorecard, Consumers Union, along with the Center for Food Safety and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, gathered more than 125,000 signatures on a petition calling on these 16 chains — including Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, Olive Garden, Domino’s, Jack in the Box, and Sonic — to take action to reduce the levels of antibiotics fed to farm animals.
“KFC and the other restaurants that received failing grades are making our antibiotics crisis worse,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “Antibiotics should only be used to treat disease, not wasted on healthy animals or to compensate for filthy conditions on factory farms. It’s time for restaurants to help protect public health by demanding that their suppliers end the irresponsible use of these important medications.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2 million Americans fall ill with drug-resistant infections each year, with more than 20,000 people dying as a result.
Last year, the U.S. saw its first two human cases of infection involving the MCR-1 gene plasmid that can confer resistance to some of the most potent antibiotics available.
“We risk being in a post-antibiotic world,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden after the discovery of this gene in an American patient.
Cameron Harsh at the Center for Food Safety calls this global increase in antibiotic-resistant infections a “public health disaster, and it is essential that our biggest restaurant chains do their part to address this growing problem right away. And considering the number of consumers demanding meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics, it would be good business for these chains to resolve to get serious about addressing antibiotics in 2017.”
Burger King did recently announce a vague plan to cut down on some antibiotics used in the chickens it sources. However, public health advocates believe that BK is taking too narrow a view of the problem, by only cutting out a limited group of antibiotics from its birds’ feed.
The BK policy will only remove those antibiotics that have been deemed “critically important” to human medicine, but appears to still allow farmers to use several antibiotics, including tetracycline, that remain medically important drugs for humans.
“When consumers eat a chicken sandwich they shouldn’t have to worry that doing so is potentially undermining antibiotics. They should just enjoy the sandwich,” said Matthew Wellington, Field Director of the Antibiotics Program for U.S. PIRG.