Here’s a holiday present for us all. Jack in the Box Inc., which also owns Qdoba Mexican Eats, committed to eliminating the routine use of antibiotics from its poultry supply by 2020. On behalf of those working to protect public health, I extend a warm thank you to the company’s leadership.
This commitment is another sign that restaurant chains are listening closely to public health experts, consumers, and shareholders. Green Century Capital Management, a leader in environmentally responsible investing, applauded the chain for making this move.
Jack joins a growing list of major restaurants committed to protecting antibiotics, including McDonald’s, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and many more. As these public-facing chains take action, it’s no surprise that producers (generally more behind-the-scenes) are doing the same. For instance, Perdue Farms Inc., which processes roughly 13 million chickens each week, recently announced that it has eliminated routine antibiotic use from its entire production system. Mr. Perdue estimated that conventional chicken sales are growing 1% to 3% annually, while sales of chicken raised without antibiotics are growing 15% to 20%.
Sales data aside, I’ll reiterate what I’ve emphasized and re-emphasized in previous blogs—this is far more than just a marketing gimmick. Major restaurants and meat producers, like Perdue and Tyson Foods, recognize that we cannot continue to produce meat in a way that risks losing the foundations of modern medicine.
The routine use of antibiotics on factory farms breeds superbugs. The practice is meant to make animals grow faster and to prevent disease that can be common in unsanitary conditions. But public health experts, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the American Academy of Pediatrics, warn that it fuels the spread of drug resistant bacteria.
The latest numbers on antibiotic sales from the Food and Drug Administration show an increase in sales of medically important antibiotics for use on livestock and poultry. The upward trend strongly suggests that the FDA’s voluntary, half measures to reduce antibiotic use on farms will likely have little impact.
As scary as that is, there’s good news aplenty in the marketplace. As we wind down 2016, seven of the top fifteen highest grossing restaurant chains in the U.S. have committed to phasing out routine antibiotics from their chicken supply. Three out of the top five chicken producers have taken steps to eliminate routine antibiotics from their production.
Yet other major restaurant chains--KFC, Olive Garden, and Bojangles’ to name a few—haven’t made public commitments to eliminate the routine use (for both growth promotion and disease prevention) of antibiotics from their meat supply chains.
Public health experts, consumers, and industry peers have repeatedly shown that when it comes to phasing out chicken raised on routine antibiotics it can and should happen now.
One side note: it’s not lost on us that Jack in the Box is perhaps more synonymous with hamburgers (thus, beef) than chicken. Two thoughts on that. One is that there are plenty of chicken products on the menu, from the Spicy Outlaw Chicken Sandwich to the Southwest Chicken Salad, and thus the announcement is indeed major and important. Two is that we need Jack to make a commitment on beef as well, even if it can’t hit the same 2020 time frame. We’ll work to make that happen.
But for now, we simply say thank you to Jack in the Box for their commitment to protecting antibiotics.