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McDonald’s Should go Whole Hog in Preserving Antibiotics

By Shelby Luce
Antibiotics Fellow

Nearly 75 years ago, Anne Miller became the first patient to be successfully treated with penicillin; the first modern antibiotic. This new miracle drug saved her from what would have likely been a fatal case of blood poisoning. Since then, antibiotics have turned potentially deadly illnesses like strep throat into a mere inconvenience.

But health experts, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, warn that if we don’t stop the widespread overuse and misuse of these drugs, antibiotics may stop working altogether.

On August 29th, The Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health released a road map forways wecan reduce the use of medically important antibiotics in U.S.  livestock and poultry production. The roadmap is partly in response to the 2015 U.S. National Action Plan to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB), which included important objectives for reducing antibiotic use in human medicine, but left considerable loopholes in addressing the overuse of antibiotics in industrial agriculture. A key recommendation from the expert commision is to end the routine use of medically important antibiotics in meat production, a practice that can fuel the spread of drug resistant bacteria.

You wouldn’t necessarily think of fast food when it comes to protecting health, but right now actions from these marketplace players are a driving force in implementing the kind of changes outlined in the roadmap. McDonald’s, the largest U.S. restaurant chain by sales, recently announced a new plan to cut antibiotic use in its global meat supply chain.

McDonald’s new vision includes implementing targets for cutting antibiotic use in the global chicken supply, and plans to expand its commitment to fewer antibiotics in pork and beef. The global commitment is less ambitious than their U.S chicken policy because it affects a much smaller number of antibiotics, i.e. those considered “high priority critically important” by WHO, but it’s still an important step forward.

The company’s global vision for the pork and beef supply chains includes a goal of eliminating routine use of medically important drugs on otherwise healthy animals. However, there’s no timeline attached to those changes and we can’t afford to wait. A recent study estimated that without swift action, drug-resistant infections could kill more people worldwide in 2050 than cancer does today.

According to McDonald’s senior director of U.S food and packaging, Americans alone consume one billion pounds of beef at McDonald’s in a year. The fast food giant sells more than 75 hamburgers a second. It’s time for one of the world’s largest purveyors of beef and pork to set time-bound targets for eliminating routine use of all medically important antibiotics from their meat supply chain.

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