McDonald's, KFC and Subway Commitment to Cut Antibiotics Inadequate, Says Report

On February 25, Consumers International - a global federation of over 240 consumer groups - published a report entitled Antibiotics Off The Menu. The report shows how the commitment of three of the world's biggest restaurant chains to cut antibiotics in their supply chain has been woefully inadequate and fails to confront the global health crisis posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria. After closely examining McDonald's, Subway's and KFC's policies and practices, Consumers International found that these restaurants' commitment to stop sourcing meat or poultry raised on antibiotics used for human medicine are weak largely because they don't extend beyond North America.

Specifically, the report found that:

  • McDonald's has committed to sourcing chicken raised without the routine use of antibiotics important for human medicine in the USA by 2017 and in Canada by 2018. However, these are just 2 of the 100 countries that McDonald's operates in, and the commitment does not extend to other types of meat they serve.
  • Subway has made a strong time-bound commitment sourcing antibiotic free chicken (2016), turkey (2019), beef (2025 ) and pork (2025 ) in the USA.  However, this commitment only applies to 1 of the 111 countries in which it operates.
  • Despite mounting pressure, KFC has made no meaningful commitment to sourcing meat raised without the use of antibiotics important for human medicine in any of the countries in which it operates.

Why This Issue Is So Important

Since the 1940s, antibiotics have played a critical role in protecting the public's health, and are responsible for saving millions of human lives.  Unfortunately, inappropriate use of antibiotics is threatening their efficacy. Around half of the antibiotics produced globally are used in agriculture, with much of this being used to make animals grow faster and to prevent, rather than treat, disease. This use of low doses of antibiotics by the modern food animal industry is responsible for drug-resistant bacteria emerging on farms, which can then reach the general population through human or animal carriers and through the food consumers eat. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance predicts that deaths from antibiotic resistance will reach 10 million per year by 2050. 

Because of the public health risks associated with antibiotic resistance, there is a growing awareness about the issue and a push to end the use of low doses of medically-important antibiotics in agriculture. In a World Health Organization survey  last year of 12 countries, 73 percent of respondents agreed that farmers should give fewer antibiotics to animals. Yet despite this worldwide concern about the overuse of antibiotics in our food system, their use in agriculture is due to increase from 63,200 tons in 2010 to 105,600 tons in 2030.

Between them, McDonald's, KFC and Subway have over 100,000 restaurants worldwide, so they can have an enormous impact on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.   "Given the scale of the public health crisis the world is facing due to antibiotic resistance, the response from KFC, McDonald's and Subway, as market leaders, has been woefully inadequate.   Where commitments have been made they are confined to North America.  We need an international response to stop antibiotic resistance. Superbugs don't recognize national borders..." says Amanda Long, Consumers International Director General.

In their report, CI calls for any anti-microbial drug listed as critically important, highly important or important to only be used in veterinary medicine to treat sick animals and, on rare occasions, for non-routine disease control if disease has been identified in other close-contact animals. It also recommends that veterinarians stop using  classes of drugs classified as Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials altogether, and calls for the an end to the use of these drugs  for growth, feed efficiency or for routine disease prevention in farming.


Image "McDonald's 1955 burger" by ciron810 on Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.