Burger King, Jack in the Box, Dunkin’ Donuts, Arby’s, and a number of other fast food companies and restaurants are failing to reduce antibiotics in their animal livestock, according to a new joint analysis conducted by leading environmental and consumers groups.

Chain Reaction II” (pdf) was released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, theConsumers Union, the Center for Food Safety, and the Food Animal Concerns Trust. The groups analyzed major fast food and restaurant brands’ use of antibiotics in meat based on survey responses from the companies.

The researchers caution that while some establishments have made progress, the heavy use of human antibiotics in animals is contributing to the serious public health risk of antibiotic resistance.

The vast majority of this meat is produced in industrial-scale facilities where thousands and even tens of thousands of animals at a time are routinely fed antibiotics to help them survive and make them grow faster in unsanitary, crowded and stressful conditions,” the report’s introduction explains, noting, “[t]his misuse of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance — the ability of bacteria to withstand exposure to an antibiotic.

According to the analysis, Chipotle and Panera were the only two establishments to receive “A” grades for their efforts to phase out antibiotic use. This means they “have policies limiting the routine use of antibiotics across all the meat and poultry they serve and publicly affirming that the majority of their meat and poultry is sourced accordingly.”

Subway, which previously faced a public relations disaster for using a yoga mat chemical in their bread, received a B grade. Though last year they received an “F,” this year they are the “only [new] restaurant chain to adopt a new antibiotics policy that applies to all types of meat it serves.” The analysis reports roughly two-thirds of Subway chicken is now antibiotic-free.

The only other chain to receive a B grade was Chik-Fil-A, which received the same grade last year. The popular restaurant reports “more than 23 percent” of its chicken supply was raised without antibiotics, “indicating only marginal progress over last year.

Though the report expresses cautious optimism that standards for chicken are improving across the industry, it warns most companies have not applied these new standards to the rest of their meats like Panera and Chipotle have. McDonald’s was one such example; the fast food giant received a C+ grade for its efforts to reduce antibiotic use in chicken. One hundred percent of its chicken is now reportedly “raised without antibiotics important in human medicine,” but the chain still failed to achieve a higher grade; though they have enthusiastically promoted news of their progress on poultry, they have no such policies on beef or pork.

Wendy’s received a C, Taco Bell received a C-, and the grades deteriorated from there. From the report:

Two other companies, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s, receive a ‘D’ grade for making token efforts — i.e., setting good antibiotics use policies on chicken, but applying them only to a small fraction of their chicken purchases. Unfortunately, 16 of the top 25 fast food chains, including such very large ones as KFC and Burger King, have taken no action to reduce use of antibiotics in their supply chains. These companies received a grade of ‘F.’” [emphasis added]

KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Arby’s, Applebee’s, Jack in the Box, Sonic Burger, Chili’s, Dairy Queen, Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, IHOP, Buffalo Wild Wings, Burger King, Olive Garden, and Denny’s all received failing grades.

The widespread use of antibiotics in livestock is a major public health concern. The overprescription of antibiotics in humans is, itself, a growing issue, but as the report explains, “70 percent of antibiotics important for human medicine sold in the U.S. are used in livestock and poultry production, not for human medical use.” The use of antibiotics in livestock has risen 23 percent in the last five years, contributing to the growing problem.

Antibiotic resistance makes treatment of bacterial infections harder, increases how long people are sick, and makes it more likely that patients will die. Curbing the misuse of antibiotics in the meat industry is a public health imperative,” the report urges.

They also point out that “[a]pproximately 96 percent of the antibiotics sold for animal use are added to feed and water” and that“[t]his practice is a key contributor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria – sometimes called ‘superbugs’ – which can escape the farm and spread into communities through air, water, soil, meat, and even workers.

Though the report focused on antibiotic use, it warned of other additives used in meat in the United States, including zinc, copper, growth hormones, and debilitating beta agonists like ractopamine.

In spite of the widespread use of multiple additives in livestock, the report remains optimistic. They note “nine out of 25 companies surveyed (up from five in 2015) had adopted publicly-available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply: McDonald’s, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Panera, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut.

They also praise consumers for demanding better options. “The market for meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics use is growing fast,” they note, citing grass-fed and organic options.

Still, the researchers advise more must be done to make a substantial impact on the food supply, calling for more government involvement, which they say has been “woefully inadequate” to date. They also call for more effort from fast food chains and restaurants, which they say “can create big positive ripple effects on meat production practices across the country by changing their sourcing policies.


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