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McDonald’s and Feds Reducing Antibiotics in Meat Production

If Barack Obama and McDonald’s are working together, then the plan must be evil, right?

The Tri-State Neighbor reports that McDonald’s is fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria by getting antibiotics out of its chicken:

In early March, McDonalds USA announced “new menu sourcing initiatives including only sourcing chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine” [Daryll E. Ray and Harwood E. Schaffer, “National Plan to Combat Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria on Multiple Fronts,” Tri-State Neighbor, 2015.04.17].

According to NPR, McDonald’s is nixing the use of antibiotics to boost chicken growth but still allowing antibiotics to protect chickens from the diseases fostered by their close CAFO quarters. We can fight CAFO crud in chickens with certain antibiotics, ionophores, that aren’t used in human medicine and thus don’t pose the same threat to our health. Maryn McKenna, who writes about antibiotic resistance and other public health issues, tells NPR that restricting antibiotics for meat growth enhancement can improve public health:

RATH: So do we expect this decision by McDonald’s to make a dent in the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

MCKENNA: Well, I certainly hope so. The science is really good at this point and has been for decades that in countries where they’ve been restricting antibiotic use for a while – that’s most of Scandinavia, parts of Western Europe, the Netherlands is a particularly good example – it does look like resistant bacteria affecting humans trend down once you start to take antibiotics out of the agricultural system. It takes a while and there’s a lot of other input so sometimes it’s hard to tease out the effect but it has to have a good result [Arun Rath, “McDonald’s Is Limiting Use of Antibiotics in Its Chickens,” NPR, 2015.03.07].

Uncle Sam is tackling ag-induced antibiotic resistance as well:

The issue of the use of antibiotics in food animals received additional attention at the end of March, when the U.S. secretaries of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Defense announced their “plan to combat and prevent antibiotic resistant bacteria”. The announcement included the release by the White House of the “National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria” [Ray and Schaffer, 2015.04.17].

The White House details the five goals of the National Action Plan. The #1 goal, which includes establishing antibiotic resistance prevention programs in all 50 states, is to end the use of antibiotics to make meat grow:

…Among other things, the plan hopes to reduce the inappropriate human use of antibiotics by 50 percent in outpatient settings and 20 percent in inpatient settings by 2020. When it comes to agriculture, the plan will eliminate “the use of medically-important antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals” and require “veterinary oversight for [the] use of medically-important antibiotics in the feed or water of food-producing animals” [Ray and Schaffer, 2015.04.17].

We’ve known since at least 1977 that pumping the critters we eat full of antibiotics just to get more meat on the bone puts us at risk of harder-to-fight infections. It’s about business and government act to stop our food supply from promoting antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


  1. Roger Elgersma 2015-04-18 10:11

    The antibiotics that are growth promotants and the antibiotics that are to prevent disease are the same thing. You see if the animal does not get sick it grows better. I was a farmer so I know. Either McDonalds and the pres are fooling us or someone fooled them into fooling us.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-18 10:52

    Roger, I’m just a blogger, not a chicken farmer or a veterinarian. I only know what I read. But University of Arkansas poultry professor H. David Chapman says, “… ionophores are unrelated to the antibiotics used to increase the rate of weight gain and improve feed efficiency. Ionophores are not used in human medicine and, therefore, cannot contribute to perceived issues relating to drug resistance in man.” It appears there are a couple kinds of antibiotics we can use for distinct purposes on CAFO chickens.

  3. bret clanton 2015-04-18 11:59

    Cafo’s and their widespread use of low dose antibiotics will literally be the death of us…..

  4. mike from iowa 2015-04-18 12:11

    I have never heard of growth hormones(steroids) being labeled anti-biotics. Meat chickens,such as Cornish Broilers,are bred to grow fast and do so w/o vitamins.electrolytes and other stuff. 56 from the day they hatch you’d better have them booked at the locker plant for slaughter,unless you plan to do them yourself.

  5. Paul Seamans 2015-04-18 13:00

    Mike, the breeding of chickens for rapid gain helps explain why even chicken doesn’t “tastes like chicken” anymore.

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