McDonald’s Moves to Protect Public Health By Reducing Antibiotics Use in Beef

The world’s largest burger chain is leading the way for other fast-food restaurants to address the critical issue of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that impact human health.

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In a significant win in the fight to save antibiotics, McDonald’s—the largest and most iconic burger chain on the planet—announced today that it will address the use of antibiotics in its international supply chain for beef by 2021. “This important step forward raises the bar for other burger chains and sends an unmistakable market signal to beef producers worldwide,” says Lena Brook, the interim director of the Food & Agriculture program at NRDC. “With Washington asleep at the wheel on this rising health threat, leadership in the marketplace is essential.”

The company’s new policy directs its global suppliers to reduce the use of medically important antibiotics in McDonald’s beef, starting with 10 markets around the world, including the United States. McDonald’s is the first—and by far the largest—burger chain to commit to a policy like this for all beef sold at its restaurants. While the chicken industry has been proactive in changing their antibiotics policies, beef companies have taken very little action to address the issue—even though more medically important antibiotics are given to cows than humans, or any other animal.

The problem is dire: Leading medical experts have called antibiotics resistance one of our greatest public health threats. In the United States, about 95 percent of drugs given to livestock and poultry are given routinely in feed and water—often to animals who are not sick to help them survive crowded and unsanitary conditions on industrial farms. This nonessential use of medicine contributes to the rise and spread of antibiotics-resistant bacteria, ultimately increasing the risk of drug-resistant infections in humans. At least 23,000 Americans already die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Nobody in the world sells more burgers than McDonald’s, and its actions can shape the future of the industry,” Brook says. “We will be watching closely to make sure this policy goes into action and that its promise is fully realized.”

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