Restaurant Chains Fail on Beef & Pork Antibiotics Policies

When it comes to chicken nuggets, we’ve seen incredible change when it comes to antibiotics use policies in a few short years—but burgers and bacon are another story.
2017 Chain Reaction Antibiotics Scorecard

A coalition of food, consumer and environmental groups, including NRDC, today released Chain Reaction III, our third annual scorecard ranking the nation’s 25 largest restaurant chains on their antibiotics use policies and practices for the meat and poultry they serve.

The results speak for themselves: in the 2017 Scorecard, fourteen companies earned passing grades. Of those fourteen, only three chains have antibiotics policies that span all meats: long-time leaders Panera and Chipotle, and Subway, a relative newcomer. Though Starbucks also committed to antibiotics use change in their turkey supplies, and along with McDonald's conveyed an intention to set policies beyond poultry in the future. 

In other words, when it comes to chicken nuggets, we’ve seen incredible change in a few short years—but burgers and bacon are another story.

2017 Antibiotics Scorecard: Chicken passes, other meats fail

There’s no doubt that restaurants helped ignite sweeping changes in the antibiotics use practices of the chicken industry. NRDC estimates that close to 50% of the U.S. chicken producers are either raising birds with responsible antibiotics use practices or are under a pledge to do so within the next few years. But while many of these fast food and fast casual chains have taken action to limit routine antibiotics use in their chicken supplies, we are not seeing much progress on similar restrictions for beef or pork supplies.

With federal policy addressing only a small part of the antibiotics overuse problem, it’s more important than ever that the entire meat industry—beef and pork producers included—start using antibiotics responsibly in order to keep these life-saving drugs working when sick people and sick animals need them.

But that doesn’t mean the government is off the hook.

Companies are increasingly going beyond current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that—despite banning medically important antibiotics use solely to speed up animals’ growth—still allow producers to routinely use these drugs to prevent illness to compensate for the crowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions typical of industrial farms. By surpassing the limited FDA policy, these restaurant chains and the producers that supply them have proven that ending routine use in livestock is achievable and economically viable.

It is time for our federal policies to catch up to the marketplace leaders, and for the FDA to set rules across the livestock industry that prohibit all routine uses of antibiotics in food animal production, not just for growth promotion uses. FDA must set baseline standards that limit acceptable use to treatment of sick animals and to control identified disease outbreaks. In fact, an August 2017 report released by a commission of experts in human and veterinary medicine, microbiology and public health echoes this call to action, and outlines key steps for policymakers AND food companies to help tackle the antibiotic resistance crisis.

In the meantime, we at NRDC will continue to encourage restaurant chains to make good on the antibiotics use pledges they adopted for their chicken supplies—and to expand those commitments to the rest of their menu. We know that any and all antibiotics use contributes to resistance, which is why we advocate for responsible use in all sectors of the livestock industry. In order to truly get a handle on the antibiotic resistance crisis—which respects no industry or national boundaries—the progress we've seen among buyers and producers of chicken must be expanded.  Beef and pork are now in the proverbial hot seat.

Click here for the full Chain Reaction III report—produced by Consumers Union, NRDC, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and the Center for Food Safety.