McDonald’s announced on Wednesday that it is committing to serving chicken raised without antibiotics used in human medicine in all of its U.S. restaurants within two years.
The company isn’t going completely antibiotic-free — but will cut the use of antibiotics that contribute to “superbugs” or drug-resistant bacteria that can also harm humans. Often, these human antibiotics are fed to livestock to maximize growth, rather than to treat illness.
This comes on the heels of new leadership for the company. Steve Easterbrook began as CEO of McDonald’s on Monday, and brings to the role a legacy of healthier food and environmental initiatives within the company’s United Kingdom division. VP of Corporate Social Responsibility Bob Langert, a 32-year veteran of the company, also retired last month.
While the decision marks a big step forward in protecting the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics for people, McDonald's still has work to do, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
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“Unfortunately, the statement does not include a ban on the use of all medically-important antibiotics in routine disease prevention, a practice known to contribute to antibiotic resistance,” said Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s Food and Agriculture program. “We urge McDonald’s to close this loophole in their ‘Global Vision’ statement, and to apply their new U.S. chicken antibiotics curbs to all their restaurants globally.”
It is yet to be seen if McDonald's will eventually follow Panera Bread’s lead in committing to eliminating the usage of antibiotics altogether. Although not quite there, Panera is working on reducing its use of antibiotics to zero, as well as finding alternatives to confinement for farm animals — part of the company’s commitment to have a positive impact on the food system and provide transparency.
McDonald's last year pledged to begin purchasing verified sustainable beef, but said it would allow restaurants in different international markets to follow region-specific guidelines. However, the company said it will ask its beef suppliers to follow principles being developed by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), with indicators that are specific to their regions.