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McDonald’s puts the hammer down on antibiotics

McDonald’s announces commitment to source beef raised without routine antibiotics.

Earlier this fall, I wrote a blog titled, “It’s not regulations, it’s retailers you should worry about.”

In a nutshell, the post describes how the past decade has been challenging for producers because of burdensome government regulations. And while the current Administration is now rolling back many of these overreaching requirements imposed on producers, new challenges are beginning to emerge as retailers respond to consumer demands and subsequently set new standards for their food ingredients.

One area in particular will be stricter guidelines on animal agriculture’s use of antibiotics. The industry has already changed dramatically with the implementation of the Veterinary Feed Directive, but as we feared, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In response to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) giving McDonald’s and 22 other large burger chains an “F” grade for failing to source beef raised without routine antibiotics, McDonald’s has rolled out a new policy that is going to change the way ranchers maintain herd health and treat illness.

Yesterday, the company announced, “As one of the world’s largest restaurant companies, McDonald’s has the opportunity to use our scale to tackle some of the most complicated challenges facing people, animals and our planet - and help drive industry-wide progress.

McDonald’s is announcing a policy to reduce the overall use of antibiotics important to human health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), which applies across 85% of our global beef supply chain.”

So what will McDonald’s new policy look like exactly?

According to the burger giant, “First, McDonald’s is partnering with supplying beef producers in our top 10 beef sourcing markets to measure and understand current usage of antibiotics across a diverse, global supply chain. By the end of 2020, based on what we have learned, we will establish reduction targets for medically important antibiotics for these markets. Starting in 2022 – we will be reporting progress against antibiotic reduction targets across our top 10 beef sourcing markets.”

Following the announcement, NRDC changed its tune on McDonald’s, praising the burger giant for making changes to how the company will source its beef in the future.
According to the NRDC, “The new policy already sets the company apart from competitors as a leader on the issue, making it the first major burger chain—and by far the largest—to address antibiotics overuse in beef. McDonald's joins other fast-food companies like Chipotle and Panera in leading the way in reducing antibiotics—and leaves other major burger giants like Burger King and Wendy’s having to play catch up, as customers increasingly demand better meat.”

NRDC is part of a coalition called Antibiotics Off The Menu, which has been pressuring McDonald’s and other retailers for years to extend their antibiotics commitment to all meat, not just chicken.

Lena Brook, NRDC’s interim director of food and agriculture, healthy people & thriving communities program, concludes, “Even as a wave of reform took hold in the chicken industry, the U.S. beef industry has flown under the radar on this issue for far too long. In the ongoing fight to end antibiotic overuse, this step up from McDonald’s sends a clear message that business as usual will no longer be acceptable.”

“We expect this to be the first of many commitments from food companies to purchase beef raised without medically important antibiotics; importantly, this means that the beef industry will need to change their practices to meet this growing demand,” said Christy Spees, environmental health program manager at As You Sow, an organization which focuses on “factory farming and antibiotics”.

Change — whether we like it or not, it’s coming. As the beef industry’s largest customer, you can bet this announcement from McDonald’s will have a huge impact on our nation’s cattlemen and women.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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