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Olive Garden, Darden Restaurants under investor pressure to ditch routine antibiotics

For Immediate Release

Expert contacts:
Matthew Wellington       Kari Hamerschlag
845-591-5646                510-207-7257
mwellington@pirg.org    khamerschlag@foe.org

Press contacts:
Kate Colwell
202-222-0744
kcolwell@foe.org

ORLANDO, FL — Darden Restaurants (NYSE: DRI), the nation’s largest restaurant company and owner of Olive Garden, is facing pressure from investors today at its annual shareholder meeting to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in its supply chain, a practice that can fuel the spread of drug resistant bacteria.

The shareholder proposal, presented by Green Century Capital Management comes after Darden was sent a letter signed by a coalition of investors managing more than $1 trillion in assets that urged the company to end the routine use of antibiotics important to human medicine in its global meat and poultry supply chains. A similar letter was sent to nine other leading restaurant companies, including Domino’s Pizza Group and Brinker International Restaurants (owner of Chili's Grill & Bar)

“Olive Garden is in the perfect storm of investor concern and consumer demand for meat raised without routine antibiotics,” said Matthew Wellington, Field Director with U.S. PIRG Antibiotics Program. “Making this change should be a no brainer, it’s good business and it’s good for our health.”

Approximately 70% of medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in livestock and poultry production. The drugs are often given routinely to animals that aren’t sick in order to promote growth and prevent diseases common in crowded, unsanitary factory farm conditions. This overuse can breed antibiotic resistant bacteria, which can spread to people through contaminated food, human to animal contact, airborne dust and water runoff.

“Darden should stop misleading its shareholders by pretending that its adherence to weak FDA guidelines will significantly reduce the overuse of antibiotics in its supply chain.” said Kari Hamerschlag, Food and Technology Program Deputy Director at Friends of the Earth. “Restaurants need to get out in front of weak and voluntary guidelines in order to keep antibiotics working.”

FDA’s voluntary guidelines encourage the phasing out of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes but still allow the prophylactic use of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick to prevent diseases that may arise from poor conditions and diets — so long as a veterinarian approves them.

Many major restaurant chains have responded to growing consumer preferences and adopted policies that move beyond weaker FDA guidelines including Subway, Panera Bread, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle and most recently Wendy’s according to a new report by Friends of the Earth and allies.

“There’s a perception that ‘sit down’ restaurants serve a higher-end product than fast food chains,” said Wellington. “But in this case it’s McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A that are raising the bar, and Olive Garden that’s falling short. We’re hoping to change that.”

Last Spring a coalition of environmental, consumer and animal welfare groups delivered a petition signed by more than 130,000 consumers urging Olive Garden to improve sourcing practices and go beyond the lackluster FDA guidelines with a strong policy that eliminates the routine use of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick for both growth promotion and disease prevention. Olive Garden recently received an F grade in Chain Reaction, a report and scorecard that grades restaurant’s policies on antibiotics.

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U.S. PIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. For decades, we’ve stood up for consumers, countering the influence of big banks, insurers, chemical manufacturers and other powerful special interests. For more info consult our website.

Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, ensuring the food we eat and products we use are safe and sustainable and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them. www.foe.org

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