Just days after McDonald’s corporation said it will shift to using cage-free eggs over the next decade, investors have started pressuring the fast-food chain to remove antibiotics from all of its meat.

A shareholder proposal was filed by the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters in Boerne, Texas, asking McDonald’s to ban all of its meat suppliers from using antibiotics on animals to make them grow, and to prevent disease. The meat suppliers would still be permitted to use antibiotics on sick animals, however.

In March, McDonald’s vowed to reduce the amount of drugs used in its chickens, but did not extend the change to pork and beef products. The Sisters say this is a double-standard.

“We question why this important commitment isn’t also being applied to the beef and pork they source, as hamburgers are a mainstay of McDonald’s business. This double-standard makes no sense to us,” said Sr. Susan Mika of the Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne.

The congregation won’t be alone in its demands; a number of other McDonald’s shareholders are planning to file similar proposals, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility says. The group is leading a campaign against the corporation’s use of antibiotics on animals.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the use of antibiotics in meat could lead to antibiotic resistance in humans, and the rise of “superbugs.” About 2 million Americans are sickened by drug-resistant infections every year, according to the agency.

On September 9, McDonald’s announced that it would start using cage-free chickens within 10 years in nearly 16,000 of its restaurants. Each year, the fast-food giant purchases about 2 billion eggs to make its Egg McMuffins and other breakfast foods. The company claims it has been buying more than 13 million cage-free eggs per year since 2011.

But as New Brunswick Today points out, even cage-free chickens live in unhealthy conditions.

“You have some of these facilities that have tens of millions of animals on one property, tens of millions, they are locked so overcrowded, crammed wing to wing, and beak to beak and stacked in cages from the floor to the ceiling, this is where the term factory farm comes from,” says Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States.

Shapiro noted that:

“Even cage-free birds may never go outside and they are still in a facility with tens of thousands of birds…It doesn’t necessarily mean they are living in bucolic conditions but it does mean that the birds have a better quality of life.”

Marion Gross, Chief Supply Chain Officer of McDonald’s North America, says it would be feasible for McDonald’s to start using free-range chickens, but it would be incredibly difficult, due to the sheer number of eggs the chain purchases every year. That doesn’t mean that McDonald’s couldn’t improve conditions at cage-free farms, however.

“We believe that we are going to help move [the improvements in cage-free systems] along even further because our volumes and our scale is so big we are helping to change the industry,” Gross said. “But those changes will come at a cost to farmers, many of them plan for 20 years of egg production out of the thousands of cages they use.”

McDonald’s says the transition to cage-free chickens is a step in the right direction, and that it isalways taking steps to provide consumers with healthier menu options, including the Artisan Grilled Chicken patty, which features “simple, everyday ingredients,” and is topped with a blend of romaine, baby spinach and baby kale, the company said in a press release.

It added:

“McDonald’s is also moving from liquid margarine to real butter on English muffins, biscuits and bagels on the breakfast menu and has introduced a new Buttermilk Crispy Chicken, which uses real buttermilk in the breading.”

But let’s face it, McDonald’s is not exactly a role model for having food free of low quality, health-hazardous ingredients.

Just a few days ago, McDonald’s received a “C” grade from a coalition of environmental, animal welfare, and consumer organizations who rated the corporation’s antibiotic policies.

This post originally appeared at Natural Society.


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