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WASHINGTON -- McDonald's today introduced reduced-fat French fries in its U.S. restaurants. However, the company remains behind the curve on another public health issue -- the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Major fast food companies, including Subway and KFC, have recently said they will not buy chicken fed medically important antibiotics for nontherapeutic purposes. But McDonald's, the second largest U.S. chicken buyer after KFC, has adopted no new policy.
"If McDonald's wants to improve public health, it should stop contributing to the unnecessary use of millions of pounds of antibiotics each year," said Michael Khoo, an analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Our antibiotics deserve a break today."
UCS estimates that the poultry industry feeds 10.5 million pounds of antibiotics and related drugs to healthy chickens every year to promote growth and to compensate for unsanitary conditions on factory farms. This overuse of antibiotics in poultry contributes to the loss of efficacy of drugs that are used to treat serious diseases in people, including food poisoning.
In light of the public health threat of antibiotic resistance, Subway, KFC, Hardees, Domino's and Dairy Queen recently announced new purchasing policies to reduce the use of medically important antibiotics in poultry production. In a statement, KFC said the company "does not purchase poultry treated nontherapeutically with medically important antibiotics."
McDonald's failure to follow its rivals on this issue is at odds with a social responsibility report, released by the company last spring, which said, "we agree with experts that [antibiotic] use should be managed in order to minimize their impact on antibiotic resistance in humans." Yet McDonald's continues to purchase poultry raised with nontherapeutic, medically important antimicrobials. Earlier this year, McDonald's did halt the purchase of poultry raised with fluoroquinolone antibiotics, which are used on a small percentage of chicken flocks.
"Despite public health concerns about antibiotic resistance, McDonald's is slow to change its fast food," Khoo said. "McDonald's could reduce the threat of antibiotic resistance by refusing to purchase chickens that have been fed excessive amounts of antibiotics."
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit partnership of scientists and citizens combining rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development, and effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions. To see fast food companies' policy statements on antibiotic use, go to http://www.keepantibioticsworking.com/fastfood . For more information, visit UCS at http://www.ucsusa.org/.