This week, I traveled to KFC’s home turf in Louisville, KY to deliver petitions signed by over 350,000 consumers calling on the country’s largest and most iconic chicken restaurant to end the routine use of antibiotics important to human medicine in its chicken supply. Along with NRDC, US PIRG, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, and CREDO Action, also collected petition signatures.
We held a press conference in front of a KFC restaurant not far from the company’s headquarters. NRDC’s mobile billboard—reminding Louisville residents and KFC decision-makers that superbugs are responsible for at least 23,000 deaths in the US annually—was by our side. As was our intrepid chicken friend Auntie Biotic.
Unfortunately, when we went to KFC’s offices to deliver signed petitions, we didn’t get far past security and the company’s mailroom. Despite several requests to meet, KFC leadership declined to discuss their antibiotics policy plans with us yesterday. Instead, we were escorted to the company’s receiving dock, then politely asked to leave.
I am disappointed that KFC turned down a chance to meet in person, as direct discussions are always fruitful opportunities to better understand their perspective and vice versa. A meeting would have been especially beneficial, because judging from media statements, it is unclear how the company plans to proceed.
On the one hand, in response to our advocacy efforts, as well as to the August 9th news about a new resolution that was filed by Yum! Brands shareholders, KFC’s parent company stated that they are reviewing their current approach to antibiotics use in their chicken supply. This suggests that the company is taking the threat of antibiotic resistance seriously, though we have no clarity on what this “review” means.
However, my optimism is tempered by industry reports suggesting that Yum! Brands declined activist requests for a responsible antibiotics policy. Additionally, KFC also said in a Louisville Courier-Journal article that the company is exploring the viability of its suppliers to meet our campaign ask. As the largest chicken chain in the US, KFC is a major buyer of chicken. Surely if they want their producers to switch, they have the power to make this happen.
Given at least two of KFC’s chicken suppliers (Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride, # 1 and #2 largest chicken companies in the US, respectively) already produce at least some of their chicken without the routine use of medically important antibiotics, and that many other producers and restaurants have made the commitments we are calling for, there is nothing really stopping KFC except a willingness to act.
The fact is, KFC is behind the times on this issue. As of a week ago, rival McDonald’s announced that it has fully eliminated routine use of antibiotics important to human medicine in its chicken supply. Subway, Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and even Taco Bell, KFC’s sister company, have pledged to do the same, proving that where there is a will, there is a way. The parade of announcements from some of KFC’s most significant competitors is in stark contrast to KFC’s backward stance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many public health experts, have made clear that livestock and poultry use of antibiotics contributes to the pressing public health threat of antibiotic resistance. More than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics in the United States are sold for use on livestock and poultry. More than 96 percent of those drugs are distributed in feed or water—often to animals that are not sick to speed up growth and help animals survive crowded and unsanitary conditions on industrial farms.
I hope that KFC takes seriously the concerns expressed by the more than 350,000 signatories to the petition we delivered. KFC should release a concrete timeline for ending the use of medically-important drugs in their chicken supply. Right now, the company is failing to do its part to protect people from the huge health threat before us. Their policy “review” can’t come fast enough. Our antibiotics toolkit is failing quickly; we do not have the luxury of time when it comes to superbugs.