The single largest purchaser of beef in the United States, the McDonalds restaurant chain, recently pledged to only buy beef from sources that no longer use antibiotics for prevention purposes. The decision caused the consumer-watchdog publication Consumer Reports to give the company high ratings, praising the commitment.
“To protect public health and push the beef industry to eliminate the overuse of antibiotics, restaurants, especially burger chains, should commit to sourcing beef from producers that use antibiotics only to treat animals diagnosed with an illness,” the publication explained in the October report “Chain Reaction V.”
Consumer Reports (CR), who grades restaurant chains on an “A” to “F” scale depending on their commitment to stop using meat grown with antibiotics, recently moved McDonalds up from an “F” to a “C” grade.
While the golden arches may have gleaned new appreciation from CR, the restaurant chain “Wendy’s” was rated a “Wanna Be” in terms of their commitment to purchasing meat where antibiotics are overused.
“Wendy’s says that for 30 percent of their beef, producers are cutting back on the use of just one medically important drug called tylosin and only by a mere 20 percent,” CR said. “It applies to just 30 percent of their overall beef supplies with no announced timeline for when Wendy’s will address the remaining 70 percent of its beef.”
Tylosin is commonly used in beef cattle to address liver abscessed in cows, mostly in feedlot environments.
CR said it has taken up the task of rating meat purchasers for their decisions regarding antibiotic use and animal production because the practice worries consumers.
“Nearly 60 percent of respondents in a 2018 CR survey said they’d be more likely to eat at a restaurant that serves meat raised without antibiotics,” the publication noted. “Consumers are aware that their choices at the checkout have social and environmental impacts and are increasingly willing to spend their dollars on products with sustainability attributes.”
What’s The Worry?
According to CR, the main worry driving consumer preferences for meat raised without antibiotics has to do with the overuse of the drugs that allows for the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
More than 160,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic resistant strains, making them the fourth leading cause of death, CR noted, and over two thirds of the medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to food animals.
“Many meat producers routinely give drugs to animals that are not sick to help them survive the stressful and unsanitary conditions on factory farms,” the CR report said.
CR highlighted several dismal statistics in their report, including the fact that 92 percent of the antibiotics sold for animal use are added to feed and water to dose large herds of animals at once, instead of to individual sick animals. Macrolides and tetracyclines were most heavily used in beef feedlots. This use can eventually make the drugs ineffective for treating any infections, including those in humans.
The CR concern over Wendy’s small commitment regarding tylosin, for example, is the fact it is related to human drugs used to treat serious infections like camplobacterioisis. Humans who areinfected with camplobacterioisis can experience permanent nerve damage or death in severe cases.
Consumer pressure for restaurants and retailers to start being more aware of meat production methods is even showing up on Wall Street.
According to the CR report, shareholders of major restaurant chains, including Darden, Olive Garden’s parent company, recently requested the chain conduct a feasibility study for eliminating the routine use of medically important antibiotics in its meat supply. Chili’s restaurants, a subsidiary of Brinker, announced they will work toward the elimination of medically important antibiotics in their chicken supply chains.
Producers holding out against the trend can face backlash from their investor boards.
Sanderson Farms, the third largest chicken producer in the U.S., was the last major holdout to reduce antibiotic use in chickens, but more than 40 percent of the company shareholders supported it. In March 2019, Sanderson Farms committed to no longer using at least two medically important antibiotics for disease prevention.
CR said they view this development and other commitments to reduce the overuse of antibiotics as positive.
“Antibiotic resistance is a health crisis that, whether we realize it or not, has the potential to affect us all,” CR noted. “To slow its spread and limit its impact on modern medicine, we urge that broader, more urgent and more meaningful action be taken at all levels.”BACK