Although fast food restaurants can play an instrumental role in pushing meat producers to use antibiotics responsibly, the industry continues to contribute to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, according to the annual Chain Reaction V report by industry advocacy groups.
The report revealed 15 American fast food and restaurant chains, including Burger King, DQ, Jack In the Box, Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, Chili's, Sonic and Applebee's, received an "F" for their lack of action in reducing the use of beef raised with antibiotics.
As leaders in using only antibiotic-free beef and chicken, Chipotle and Panera Bread were the only restaurants to receive an "A" and "A- " respectively. Most other chains have no established policy in restricting antibiotic use in their beef supply chains.
The overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms contributes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can cause life-threatening infections in people. The World Health Organization and the CDC consider antibiotic-resistant bacteria among the top threats to global public health, and the CDC estimates that each year, at least 23,000 Americans die from resistant infections.
Despite the threat posed to public health, the U.S. lacks effective laws and policies to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture as many meat producers give the drugs to animals that are not sick to prevent diseases caused by factory farm production practices.
Burger chains in particular have a crucial role to play in reducing antibiotic use. In 2017, the beef sector accounted for 42% of the medically-important antibiotics sold to the meat industry—more than any other meat category. By contrast, 5% of all medically important antibiotic sales to the meat sector went to the chicken industry.
After Chain Reaction IV was released, McDonald's committed to monitor and reduce medically important antibiotic use in its beef supply, bumping them from an F to a C in this year's report, as well as earning it the "Biggest Mooover" award.
Wendy's, on the other hand, is taking very small steps forward to reduce antibiotic use in its beef supply chain, which earned it a D+ and the "Biggest Wannabe" award this year. Meanwhile, Taco Bell earned a "D" grade for committing to reduce medically important antibiotic use by 25% in its beef supply chain by 2025.
Restaurants that serve meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics is something consumers are interested in as 59% of consumers would be more likely to eat at a restaurant that served meat raised without antibiotics, according to a survey by Consumer Reports. More than half also agreed that restaurants should stop serving meat and poultry raised with antibiotics.
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Victoria writes for the biweekly Food Institute Report, the daily Today in Food updates, and the Foodie Insider daily newsletter for consumers. She graduated from Montclair State University with a B.A. in Journalism and has a background in Nutrition and Food Science. Victoria can be reached through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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