Top Ten Facts About Wendy's, Beef, and Antibiotic Use

  1. Wendy’s is the third-largest burger chain in the U.S. Unlike several of its competitors (McDonald’s, ShakeShack, BurgerFi), Wendy’s does not have a strong, timebound policy to meaningfully reduce antibiotic use across its entire beef supply.
  2. NRDC is calling on Wendy’s to set a comprehensive policy because the overuse of medically important antibiotics on farms contributes to alarming rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—"superbugs"—that are reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics and making once-common infections in people harder to treat and sometimes lethal.
  3. Wendy’s current approach to antibiotic use in its supply chain is too narrow in scope. As of December 2018, the company has promised to purchase up to 20% of its beef from producers that have each committed to a 20% reduction of one medically important antibiotic routinely fed to their cattle. This amounts to only a 4% reduction in one drug.
  4. This is approach is problematic, because it does not apply to the entire Wendy’s beef supply chain, nor does it encompass a comprehensive end to the routine use of ALL medically important antibiotics in the production of the beef it buys.
  5. Nearly two-thirds of all medically important antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for use on food animals, not people. These antibiotics are often given to animals that are not sick to compensate for the stressful, unsanitary conditions that are the norm in industrialized farming systems like cattle feedlots. According to U.S. FDA data, in 2017 about 42% of medically important drugs sold for animal use are consumed by the beef industry.
  6. McDonald's, Subway, Shake Shack, BurgerFi, Chipotle, and Panera have either eliminated the routine use of antibiotics in their beef supply chains or pledged to do so.
  7. Wendy’s is dragging its feet with minor promises that amount to greenwashing. In fact, they earned an “D-” on Chain Reaction IV, last year’s antibiotics scorecard of the burger industry.
  8. Wendy’s says that its long-term goal is to phase out routine antibiotic use in its supply chain. But they have not set a firm commitment for use reduction or a timeframe for implementing this goal.
  9. Wendy’s has not publicly disclosed drug use practices by its suppliers, though the company pledges to quantify antibiotic use in its supply chain and reduce it over time.
  10. Beef producers don’t disclose what drugs they use or how much of any drug they use, nor does any government agency require them to do so. Wendy’s suppliers are likely using tylosin, a macrolide antibiotic deemed to be a Highest Priority Critical Important Antimicrobial by the World Health Organization (WHO) on their classification of animal drugs that are similar to those used in human medicine. Macrolide antibiotics similar to tylosin—like azithromycin—are commonly used by doctors to treat pneumonia, ear infections, sexually transmitted diseases and more.

About the Authors

Lena Brook

Director of Food Campaigns, Healthy People & Thriving Communities program

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