American fast-food chains have a long way to go when it comes to reducing antibiotics in the beef they serve, according to a report released in October 2019 by six major consumer and health organizations including Consumer Reports and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The report—the fifth in the groups’ annual Chain Reaction series—evaluated the nation’s 25 largest fast-food and fast-casual restaurants on their policies toward the routine use of antibiotics in their beef supply chains. The widespread overuse of antibiotics in food animals is a leading contributor to the global crisis of antibiotic resistance.
Of 21 chains that serve beef, 15 got an 'F' for not having a meaningful, transparent policy in place to reduce or eliminate antibiotics deemed "medically important"—that is, necessary for treating infections in humans—from their beef supplies. Burger King, Arby’s, and Sonic were among the chains to earn failing grades. As in past years, only two chains, Chipotle and Panera, earned A's for their strict policies on serving beef raised without routine antibiotics.
In a sign of progress, fast-food giant McDonald’s moved its score from an ‘F’ in 2018 to a ‘C’ in 2019 because of a policy it released in late 2018 calling for, among other changes, an end to the routine use of antibiotics for preventing disease (as opposed to for sick animals) in nearly all of its global beef supply. Subway also earned a C for having strong but not-yet-implemented policies on the books. Wendy’s and Taco Bell earned a D+ and D, respectively.
Overall, although a handful of chains have begun to follow Panera's and Chipotle's lead when it comes to their beef sourcing, "the pace of progress is slow and not in line with either the urgency of the health threat posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria or the prompt progress companies have made to remove medically important antibiotics from their chicken supply chains," the report authors wrote.
Indeed, in stark contrast to the sluggish progress on beef, 92 percent of chicken sold at fast-food chains in the U.S. is now produced without the routine use of medically important antibiotics, the report noted—a stunning improvement that has occurred mostly in the last five years due to pressure on poultry producers from the fast-food industry. Thirteen of the top 25 fast food and fast casual restaurants now serve only chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics, and another four are in the process of finalizing their commitments to do so.
We reported on the last Chain Reaction report, on burgers, in 2018.
Also see Curbing Antibiotic Overuse in Animals.