Today, McDonald’s announced that within two years, the chain will buy and sell only "chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine." It sounds like a huge win for public health, since overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making food less safe and endangering consumers.
Chicken suppliers often raise their birds with antibiotics in order to offset poor living conditions, such as bad sanitation and overcrowding. “Up to 70% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are administered to healthy food animals," the Pew Charitable Trusts explains.
Considering McDonald’s huge purchasing power — it’s the largest chain of fast-food restaurants in the world — this announcement marks what could be a huge shift in the industry. However, the statement was clear that McDonald’s is only ruling out human antibiotics, meaning there will still be exceptions to the policy.
Reuters explains that McDonald’s will still purchase chicken from producers who "responsibly use ionophores,” an antibiotic that's used to treat animals but not humans. It all sounds similar to the FDA’s 2013 plans to eliminate the use of antibiotics in feed that's used for growth promotion — an initiative that could prevent antibiotic resistance. Like McDonald's' new policy, the FDA's also indicated that farmers could still use antibiotics for disease prevention.
The silver lining: We are one step closer to curbing all unnecessary use of antibiotics — in plants, animals, and humans alike.