KFC's parent company won't clean up antibiotics practices, as drug-resistant bugs rise

Today, NRDC and 81 environmental, public health, animal welfare and medical groups sent a letter to the CEO of Yum Brands! -- parent company to well-known restaurant chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut -- calling for the end of routine use of medically important antibiotics (ie the ones we need for human medicine) in their chicken supply. Our collective concern stems from the very real and growing health threat of antibiotic resistance that is on the rise in the United States and worldwide, fueled by overuse in agriculture (in addition to excessive use by humans).

In late December, prompted by an earlier communication from groups including ours, Yum! quietly committed to eliminating "critically" important antibiotics from the chicken they sell starting in 2017. This may sound like progress on antibiotics stewardship, but is in fact a cop out, not a solution.

Yum!'s new policy has a major loophole: it only applies to a small subset of the much larger category of medically important antibiotics. This means that a whole lot of antibiotic classes important to fighting off common infections like strep throat, pneumonia, UTIs and gonorrhea, can be used in Yum!'s chicken supply chain without any limit. These drug classes are often used in the livestock industry on animals that are not sick, to promote faster growth and to prevent diseases are would otherwise result from crowded, stressful, and unsanitary confinement conditions. This routine overuse of antibiotics in livestock and poultry is helping to drive the creation of drug-resistant bacteria, threatening the effectiveness of medical treatment when people get sick.

More and more of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut's peers are moving to cut routine use of ALL medically important antibiotics from their meat and/or poultry supply chains, including McDonald's, Papa John's, Subway, and others. Yum! Brands' restaurants can and should do the same.

We rely on our life-saving drugs to work when we need them. No one wants their favorite pizza, taco or fried chicken place to undermine the effectiveness of our antibiotics. Companies like Yum! Brands--which owns some of America's most popular restaurant chains--have the power to keep our drugs working by asking their suppliers to end the routine use of all medically important antibiotics.

About the Authors

Lena Brook

Director, Food Campaigns, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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