Public health officials and leaders of the “clean food” movement have long decried the liberal use of antibiotics in animals raised for human consumption. The Food and Drug Administration joined the chorus in late 2013 when it asked pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily phase out antibiotics used to enhance growth in animals raised for meat production.
And now the meat and poultry industries are getting the message. Fast-food giant McDonald's Corp. this week announced it would no longer source poultry that had been given antibiotics also used in human healthcare. The announcement represents a seismic shift that mega-processors like Tyson Foods, a major McDonald's supplier, will have to respond to. Indeed, Tyson was quick to say it supported the McDonald's decision, and it outlined what it's already done to reduce antibiotics in its poultry operations.
A day after McDonald's announcement, warehouse club king Costco also said it would stop sourcing poultry and other meats from sources that use antibiotics. Costco sells 80 million cooked chickens a year, not to mention all the raw poultry it sells. McDonald's, of course, is one of the largest buyers of chicken in the U.S.
With those two now leading the way, it's difficult to see how other major food companies cannot soon follow, with American healthcare ultimately benefiting.
“We know that the widespread use of antibiotics in animal production and human medicine can contribute to antimicrobial resistance,” said Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, last year when the FDA put out its new antibiotic guidelines. “And we know antimicrobial resistance has significant public health consequences.”
Roughly 70% of medically important antibiotics are sold for food animals, according to the Pew Charitable Trust. Approximately 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold in the U.S. in 2011 for the purpose of meat and poultry production, the FDA has said. That number should only go down now, helping to address the issue of antibiotic overuse and its impact on the effectiveness antibiotics in healthcare.
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