McDonald’s takes aim at antibiotic use in cattle

This morning, McDonald’s released a new policy on antibiotics that will affect cattle producers in North America, Europe, Brazil and Australia.

The fast food chain has set a goal of reducing the use of antibiotics, important to human health, which will affect 85 percent of its beef supply chain.

“McDonald’s believes antibiotic resistance is a critical public health issue and we take seriously our unique position to use our scale for good to continue to address this challenge,” Keith Kenny, McDonald’s vice-president of sustainability, said in a statement.

The company’s new policy builds upon previous McDonald’s positions on antibiotic use in livestock. A McDonald’s document explaining the policy says it “will encourage producers to adopt a tiered approach to antibiotic use,” where critical antibiotics for human medicine are used as a last resort or never used.

That means the fast food giant wants beef suppliers to phase out use of the highest priority critically important antimicrobials, as defined by the World Health Organization.

In its policy, McDonald’s said three rules should reduce the use of medically important antibiotics in food producing animals:

• Use of antibiotics that are medically important for human medicine are not permitted for the purpose of growth promotion.

• Routine use of medically important antibiotics for prevention of disease is not permitted, except in “narrowly defined” cases where there is a high risk of contraction of a particular infectious disease.

• Critically important antibiotics for human medicine are not permitted in the control or treatment of the “dissemination of a clinically diagnosed infections disease identified within a group of food-producing animals in McDonald’s supply chain.”

Groups worried about antibiotic resistance praised McDonald’s for its “ambitious” policy.

“It is our hope that the entire beef industry will follow McDonald’s leadership and adopt similar policies that reduce and where possible eliminate antibiotic use, while still allowing veterinarians to treat sick animals,” said Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University.

The new policy will not take effect for a few years.

McDonald’s will first work with beef suppliers in Canada and other countries to measure current usage of antibiotics.

Once it has that data, hopefully by the end of 2020, the company will announce reduction targets for medically important antibiotics.

In 2022, McDonald’s will start reporting progress on the reduction targets for Canada, the U.S. and other countries in its list of top 10 suppliers.

Details of the McDonald’s policy on antibiotics can be found here. (PDF format)

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