Making food safe

201703eh17

More than 125,000 consumers in the US urge top fast food companies to take action in 2017 to prohibit regular use of antibiotics in meat and poultry

Consumer health and food safety groups in the US recently delivered petitions signed by more than 125,000 people to the CEOs of 16 fast food restaurants, calling on them to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply. Medical experts agree that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock poses a major public health threat by increasing the spread of dealy drug-resistant bacteria, yet 2015 data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that the use of antibiotics in agriculture continues to rise.

All 16 restaurants received an “F” grade for failing to take steps to end the misuse of medical important antibiotics in the Chain Reaction scorecard, an annual report published in September by Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, and Food Animals Concerns Trust. Among the recipients is Burger King, which, despite an announcement in December to make certain changes regarding antibiotics in their chicken supply chain, still lags far behind its competitors like McDonald’s.

While McDonald’s has already removed all medically important antibiotics from its chicken supply chain, Burger King has committed to removing a only limited group of the most valuable ones classified as “critically important” to human medicine, by the end of 2017. While this is a positive step, it still leaves Burger King’s poultry suppliers free to use several medically important drugs including tetracycline.

“The global increase in antibiotic-resistant infections is a public health disaster, and it is essential that our biggest restaurant chains do their part to address this growing problem right away. And considering the number of consumers demanding meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics, it would be good business for these chains to resolve to get serious about addressing antibiotics in 2017,” said Cameron Harsh, senior manager for Organic and Animal Policy at Center for Food Safety.

In just three months since the companies received an “F”, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union and US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) gathered tens of thousands of petition signatures from people demanding that the companies adopt strong policies that prohibit the regular use of antibiotics in their meat and poultry. The petition effort is the latest in a series of recent campaigns intended to pressure companies like KFC, Olive Garden, Chili’s, and Starbucks to help protect public health and animal welfare by committing to meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics. The performance of these companies contrasts sharply with nine of the largest chains, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle and Panera who got passing grades.

“KFC and the other restaurants that received failing grades are making our antibiotics crisis worse. Antibiotics should only be used to treat disease, not wasted on healthy animals or to compensate for filthy conditions on factory farms. It’s time for restaurants to help protect public health by demanding that their suppliers end the irresponsible use of these important medications,” said Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilisation division of Consumer Reports.

Jack in the Box, another chain that received an “F” grade in the September report, announced an antibiotics policy in December that now prohibits the use in poultry of all antibiotics important to human health for growth promotion purposes, and aims to eliminate their use for disease prevention by 2020. While Jack’s new policy is an important step forward, aspects of the policy still raise significant concerns among advocacy groups, who say that the company may continue to sanction regular use by allowing antibiotics to be used in situations with “a heightened risk of disease”, without clarifying what those situations are.

“When consumers eat a chicken sandwich, they shouldn’t have to worry that doing so is potentially undermining antibiotics. They should just enjoy the sandwich. More major chains like KFC need to act on antibiotics. We simply cannot afford to lose the foundations of modern medicine,” said Matthew Wellington, field director of the Antibiotics Program for US PIRG.

Consumer advocacy and food safety groups say that in the absence of mandatory government regulations on agricultural uses of antibiotics in the U.S., restaurants should demonstrate their commitment to public health by ending the misuse of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply chains.

Most meat served by America’s chain restaurants comes from animals raised in factory farms. The animals are often fed antibiotics daily in order to prevent diseases that occur in crowded, unsanitary living conditions, and to promote faster growth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regularly dosing animals with antibiotics contributes to rising cases of infections in humans that are resistant to important medicines. The spread of resistant pathogens means that infections are harder to treat, require longer hospitalizations, and pose greater risk of death. World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that “antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.”

Leading medical experts warn that we must stop overuse of antibiotics in human medicine and animal agriculture, or else the life-saving drugs we rely on to treat common infections and which make many medical procedures possible could stop working. Some 80 per cent of all antibiotics sold in the US are used on animals, not sick people.

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