On Antibiotics, Burger King Serves Up Lots Less than Meets the Eye

Earlier today Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Burger King, served notice on a supposedly new antibiotics policy for its chicken, just a few months after scoring an 'F' on our annual rating of antibiotics policies for the nation's largest fast food chains. Unfortunately, there's a lot less here than meets the eye. In fact, the new policy is mostly business as usual. 

When it comes to antibiotic resistance, we deserve actual substance more than just the appearance of change. Yet, take a look at the new policy on RBI's webpage for corporate responsibility. It says the following:

We believe that it is important to reduce the use of antibiotics important for human medicine in order to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics in both veterinary and human medicine. With this in mind, we aim to eliminate the use of antibiotics deemed by the World Health Organization as “critically important” to human medicine from our chicken supply chain in the United States in 2017 and in Canada in 2018.

The WHO clearly defines which antibiotics are considered "critically important". There are only three such drug classes, the fluoroquinolones, the cephalosporins and the macrolides, and the first two haven't been used in U.S. chicken production for several years, according to the National Chicken Council. The only critically important drug that is FDA-approved for chicken and still in use is tylosin, a macrolide antibiotic that is a close cousin of erythromycin. So Burger King's new policy amounts to nothing more than phasing out the use of tylosin in the chicken it buys.  

Yes, I suppose that is better than doing nothing at all. But what about all the other important human antibiotics that under existing policy could still be used in producing Burger King's chicken, especially including tetracyclines and virginiamycin? The WHO deems the latter important to human medicine as well, just not "critically important" as are the others.

If RBI, as it states on its website, truly wanted to "reduce the use of antibiotics important for human medicine" in its chicken supply chain, it would have done just that. It would have announced a prohibiotion or phase out of tetracyclines, virginiamycin and all other medically important antibiotics by its chicken suppliers. Importantly, that is the policy now held by Burger King competitors like McDonald's and Subway.

So don't confuse Burger King as being among the industry leaders when it comes to better antibiotic stewardship. Lump them instead, with other industry laggards, like YUM Brands' KFC—the nation's largest fast food chicken chain. Earlier this year, NRDC launched an ongoing campaign calling on KFC to commit to phasing out chicken raised with the routine use of antibiotics.



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