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Oakland, CA - The consumer and public health advocacy organization CALPIRG Education Fund is calling on McDonald’s, to commit to a concrete timeline for phasing out the routine use of medically-important antibiotics in their beef and pork supply chains. The CALPIRG Education Fund and its partner groups are singling out the iconic fast food company because McDonald’s has an outsized influence as the biggest purchaser of beef in the United States, and it has a vague long-term antibiotics plan. Health experts, including the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics, warn that the routine use of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick fuels drug-resistant bacteria, a major health threat to humans.
“Protecting antibiotics requires action, not reaction. If we don’t act now to preserve the effectiveness of these medicines, we’ll face a world in which common infections once again kill” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director, CALPIRG Education Fund. “The Big Mac can make a big dent in stopping the misuse of antibiotics in our food system.”
"Antibiotic-resistant infections kill thousands of Americans each year," said Joan Casey, a postdoctoral scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. "We need to preserve lifesaving antibiotic medicines to treat sick humans and animals, not use them for food production. McDonald's has the opportunity to make a major contribution to population health by leading the way in serving antibiotic-free beef."
As part of the national campaign launch, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has started gathering signatures on a petition urging McDonald’s to take action on its beef and pork supply chains. Nearly 10,000 people have already signed on in support. CALPIRG Education Fund advocates and volunteers also held an event in front of a McDonald’s franchise in Oakland to educate people about the dangers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the important role McDonald’s can play. The message was clear: a commitment from McDonald’s to stop selling beef and pork raised with the routine use of antibiotics will help protect our ability to treat infections and save lives.
McDonald’s recently released a vision for phasing routine antibiotic use out of its entire meat supply chain globally, but it has yet to commit to a timeline for making that vision a reality.
To McDonald’s credit, the company stopped serving chicken raised with medically-important antibiotics in 2016, ahead of schedule. At the time, consumer and health advocates, including CALPIRG Education Fund and partners, applauded the company’s actions and influence. Now, fourteen of the top 25 restaurant chains in the U.S. have committed to no longer source chicken raised with routine antibiotics, according to the Chain Reaction report.
“We convinced McDonald’s to stop serving chicken raised on life-saving medicines,” noted Rusch. “Now, it’s time for the biggest burger chain in the country to make the same commitment for all the meat they sell. Doing so will help protect doctors’ ability to treat infections and save lives.”
The latest numbers from the Food and Drug Administration show sales of medically-important antibiotics to use on food animals decreased from 2015 through 2016, marking the first decline in year to year sales on record. The decline suggests that restaurants’ new attitude toward antibiotics is making an impact. The FDA data also separates antibiotic sales by species for the first time. It shows significant differences among the percentage of medically-important antibiotics going to chicken, cattle and swine — chicken accounts for only 6% of sales, while beef accounts for 43% and pork for 37%.
Some companies including Chipotle, Subway, Panera Bread, Niman Ranch and Applegate have already moved away from all meat raised with routine antibiotic use, or are in the process of doing so. If McDonald’s, which sells a billion pounds of beef in the U.S. each year and a significant amount of pork, commits to only purchase beef and pork raised without misusing antibiotics, we can take a significant step in ensuring that antibiotics are preserved for treating sick people.
Background info on antibiotic overuse on farms:
Millions of Americans get sick each year with antibiotic resistant infections and at least 23,000 of them die. A recent study estimates that by 2050, drug-resistant bacteria may kill more people worldwide than cancer kills today. Some of the biggest users of antibiotics are large, industrial farms, many of which routinely give antibiotics to livestock and poultry even when animals aren’t sick. Approximately 70% of medically-important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use on food animals. To keep antibiotics working, we need to limit their use to situations when animals are sick, or to control verified infectious disease outbreaks on the farm.
CALPIRG Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization. It is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.
CALPIRG Education Fund Executive Director Emily Rusch and volunteers launched the campaign with an event at a McDonalds in Berkeley.
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