The overuse of antibiotics on farm animals has been responsible for outbreaks of one of the most life-threatening food-borne health problems in years, but now the world’s biggest fast food giant is pledging to make a change.
Its competitors in the fast casual food segment like Panera Bread and even former property Chipotle have begun taking a huge bite out of McDonald’s bottom lines by serving antibiotic-free meat, but now the Golden Arches are hoping to win some of them back by making a change that’s been long overdue.
McDonald’s to Phase Out Antibiotics
Each year in the United States, a reported 23,000 people die and 2 million are sickened by superbugs, which are often caused by rampant overuse of antibiotics in meat.
This has caused several European nations and Canada to ban the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in farm animals.
Now, McDonald’s USA is slated to do the same, phasing out the use of chickens raised on antibiotics and stopping procedures such as administering antibiotics even to chicks still in their shells. They expect the plan to take two years.
“For public health, this is really a game changer,” said Gail Hansen, a senior officer for Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project.
Does Move Signal a New Era for McDonald’s?
Because of continued consumer rejection (and well-deserved media potshots), McDonald’s has had no choice but to make these and other changes.
But will they help win customers back? Smart consumers are still well aware that the fast food restaurant’s top menu items contain dozens and dozens of ingredients including many preservatives (one sandwich even reportedly has as many as 100 ingredients believe it or not).
And the company still serves meat from animals fed diets that are high in genetically modified corn and soy, and food that is loaded with GMO ingredients, which consumers are also rapidly rejecting.
The new antibiotic policy also has an exemption for farmers who “responsibly use” the antibiotic ionophores, according to management.
And even though companies have been making strong pledges, results often paint a different picture. One Reuters investigation of McDonald’s supplier Tyson last year showed antibiotics as a routine part of the chickens’ diets despite ongoing assurances that they were being removed, for example.
At the end of the day, consumers will have the last word, and one thing’s for sure: McDonald’s, which once held immense sentimental value in the eyes of millions, is now on a slippery slope, and would do well to be on its best behavior while consumers and journalists continue to expose its many shortcomings.