It’s Time for KFC to Kick Its Drug Habit

Auntie Biotic
Credit: Auntie Biotic

The Colonel needs to get on board with the growing movement to stop the misuse of antibiotics in poultry and meat.

Ever taken antibiotics? If so, you know to use them strictly as a doctor prescribes, to prevent the development of bacteria that are resistant to the drug.

But what if I told you most of the antibiotics dispensed in this country are often misused in a way that promotes the growth of drug-resistant superbugs and contributes to a growing threat to public health?

That’s exactly what’s happening on big industrial agricultural lots across this country. About 70 percent of the antibiotics important to human health are going to pigs, chickens, cattle, and other livestock that are, for the most part, not even sick.

Why? Some livestock producers routinely give antibiotics to animals to make them grow faster or help them survive crowded, stressful or unsanitary conditions.

When these drugs are overused, by humans or animals, some bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. That threatens the future effectiveness of these medicines, putting public health at risk.

These superbugs don’t stay down on the farm. They can be transferred to humans in the handling or preparation of raw foods or via air, water and soil from the farm to nearby communities. Even workers can inadvertently take them home.

Every year some two million Americans contract infections that don’t respond to antibiotics, and 23,000 of them die as a result. Overuse of antibiotics on the farm, as well as in human medicine, both contribute.

That’s largely why the World Health Organization warns of the day — perhaps in our lifetimes — when antibiotics will become so ineffective that large numbers of people will die from minor injuries and common infections. We have to get on top of this while there’s still time.

As more and more of us understand the danger, some major restaurant chains have vowed to buy poultry and meat only from suppliers that adhere to responsible antibiotics practices that don’t needlessly undermine public health.

McDonald’sChick-fil-A, Subway and Taco Bell, for instance, have all promised to not serve chicken that’s routinely given antibiotics, or to phase out such products soon.

But one of our largest fast-food chains — Kentucky Fried Chicken — has yet to get on board. That’s a problem. KFC has more restaurants than any other chicken chain in the United States and it trails only Chick-fil-A in sales. It’s time for the Colonel to take the pledge.

KFC publishes little information about its chicken suppliers or their antibiotics use. What we know, though, is deeply disturbing. The chain got an F on last year’s fast-food industry antibiotics scorecard, issued by NRDC and partner groups. And several of the chain’s suppliers — including Koch Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Case Farms — have not committed to ending the routine use of antibiotics important to human medicine.

At NRDC, we take the antibiotics threat seriously. And we’ve called on a new friend, Auntie Biotic, to help us urge KFC to get on board with the growing movement to stop the misuse of antibiotics.

For millions of Americans, the centerpiece of a family picnic or community supper is a bucket of KFC chicken and a pint of potato salad. Good times don’t have to be associated with practices that contribute to a public health risk. I hope you’ll join me, and Auntie Biotic, in calling on the Colonel to do the right thing.

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