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Burger King’s Weak Antibiotics Announcement Highlights the Need for Stronger Resolutions from Companies in the New Year

By: Cameron Harsh, Senior Manager for Organic and Animal Policy

January 05, 2017
Center for Food Safety

More than 125,000 people have called out 16 top restaurant chains in the U.S. for failing to act on antibiotics. In just three months since the companies received an “F” grade for lacking strong policies on antibiotics in the Chain Reaction II scorecard, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, and U.S.PIRG have gathered signatures of people demanding that the companies do better to protect human and animal health. Considering that consumers are increasingly demanding meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics, it would be good business for these chains to resolve to address antibiotics in 2017.

KFC, Olive Garden and Starbucks are among the failing companies in 2016, out of 25 surveyed, which have taken no public steps to end routine uses of medically important antibiotics by their meat and poultry suppliers. These companies are truly lagging behind in action that is not just an industry trend, but instead a critical component of preserving the efficacy of antibiotics for treating infections in humans. Two failing companies, Burger King and Jack in the Box, recently made statements that show some effort but still leave the door open for unnecessary use of important drugs. Jack in the Box’s policy is a commendable effort, prohibiting growth promotion uses of all medically important antibiotics and committing to eliminate disease prevention uses by 2020. But, some vague language regarding cases of “a heightened risk of disease” leaves too much wiggle room if it is not clarified further. Burger King’s narrow focus on only “critically important” antibiotics, in contrast, will do little to address routine use or mitigate the spread of resistant bacteria.

The public health crisis of antibiotic resistance demands strong action from all sectors, especially those in which antibiotics have been routinely misused. Large restaurant chains have the power to effect significant change by requiring their meat and poultry suppliers to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention.

This collective consumer pressure is the latest in a number of campaigns in recent years urging the restaurant and animal production industries to eliminate unnecessary antibiotics use and improve the living conditions for animals raised for food in the U.S. While Chipotle and Panera have set a significant precedent for intentionally sourcing the vast majority of their meat and poultry, other top chains must take action in order to truly move the bar towards better animal husbandry. The signatures were sent today to the CEOs of the 16 “F” companies that continue to be silent on antibiotics.

In the U.S., the routine use of antibiotics in animals raised for food for purposes other than bringing sick animals back to health has contributed to the dramatic rise in bacteria resistant to important antibiotic medicines. Producers that raise animals in confinement have relied heavily on regular doses of antibiotics added to the animals’ food and water, to promote faster growth rates and prevent animals from succumbing to diseases in the crowded, unsanitary conditions. The U.S. government has taken minor, mostly voluntary steps, to end the use of certain antibiotics for promoting growth. But, it does not cover all antibiotics used for this purpose, and there has yet to be any action to prevent antibiotic use for disease prevention.

CFS has continuously advocated for stronger animal drug policies at the federal level, while engaging with producers and retailers to implement more sustainable practices. By providing clean living conditions with sufficient space and reliable access to the outdoors; choosing breeds selected for health and immunity rather than fast growth rates; and feeding animals a healthy, appropriate diet, are not only practices that consumers expect, but reduce the need for veterinary medicines to prevent disease. Burger King and other companies can act now, in lieu of government action, to implement the changes we need to protect human health, animals raised for food, and the environment.

So, the race is on. Which restaurant will be the first in 2017 to resolve to take firm action and eliminate routine antibiotics use in their meat and poultry supply?

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