The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider antibiotic-resistant bacteria among the top threats to global public health, and the CDC estimates that each year, at least 23,000 Americans die from resistant infections. The overuse of antibiotics in livestock production significantly contributes to the spread of antibiotic resistance. The more antibiotics are used, the more bacteria become immune to them. More than 70 percent of the medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to food animals. Many meat producers routinely give the drugs to animals that are not sick either to promote faster growth or to prevent disease caused by factory farm production practices. Despite the threat posed to public health, the U.S. lacks effective laws and policies to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.
Although there is some progress in the chicken industry in response to such consumer demand, many fast food restaurants have failed to make meaningful commitments to address antibiotic overuse in their beef supply chains.
The Consumers Union study shows that only two chains, Shake Shack and BurgerFi, source beef raised without the routine use of antibiotics.
- 22 of the 25 burger chains surveyed received a failing “F” grade, including McDonald’s, the largest purchaser of beef in the U.S, and In-NOutBurger, a highly popular West Coast chain.
- In 2017, McDonald’s announced an updated vision for antibiotic stewardship across its meat supply chain but has yet to commit to a timeline for implementation beyond chicken.
- In-N-Out Burger publicly announced in 2016 that it intended to source beef raised without medically important antibiotics. Despite requests to do so, the company has yet to follow through with a time-bound commitment or provide any updates on its progress.
- Steak ‘n Shake, Farmer Boys, and Fuddruckers also have no antibiotics policy, and therefore earned an “F;” however, each offers a burger option for consumers that is made using beef raised without antibiotics.
- Wendy’s currently sources 15 percent of its beef from producers that have cut the use of one medically important antibiotic – tylosin – by 20 percent. This modest step earned Wendy’s a “D-” in this scorecard.
Of the nation’s top 25 restaurant chains, 18 have adopted policies to limit the routine use of antibiotics in at least one meat category, primarily chicken.
- Three chains – Panera Bread, Chipotle, and Chick-fil-A – received an “A” grade for their policies to source meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics. Chick-fil-A, the newest recipient of an “A” grade, reports that it is on track to have 100 percent of its chicken meet its “No Antibiotics Ever” standard by the end of 2019.
- Eleven chains improved their grades compared to last year. Chick-fil-A, KFC, Jack in the Box, and Papa John’s gained points for progress on implementing their commitments. Pizza Hut and Wendy’s gained points for making further commitments to reduce antibiotic use in their meat supply chains (for more info on Wendy’s, see the Burger Chain Scorecard).
- Domino’s received points for making a new commitment to reduce antibiotic use in its chicken supply chain. Applebee’s and IHOP (both owned by Dine Brands Global) released a new antibiotics policy in August 2018 which states that it is now working with suppliers to end the routine use of medically important antibiotics in its chicken and pork supplies.
- Dunkin’ Donuts moved up to a “D+,” though not due to improved practices, but rather because its sales of beef dropped, so we did not consider beef in calculating its score.
- Cracker Barrel earned an improved “D+” grade. Although the antibiotics claim on their website uses the ambiguous term “human grade,” the company confirmed via email that it only sells meat raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics; antibiotics are only administered in cases of illness or to control an outbreak. However, Cracker Barrel does not require a third-party auditor to verify those claims. Given the inconsistencies between what Cracker Barrel states on its website and what the company told us, as well as the lack of availability of pork and beef that would meet the company’s claims, we are skeptical that the company’s claims are accurate.
OK, but what about the beef and chicken you buy at the grocery store?
Unless it is labeled antibiotic free, it isn't. What's in it? There is no way to know unless you pay for a lab test.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock