Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Fast-food chains are phasing out antibiotics in chickens, but are slow to do so in beef and pork

It's more difficult to ensure that cattle and swine are
raised without antibiotics (Tribune photo: Antonio Perez)
While major fast-food chains such as McDonald's have promised to phase out using chickens that are fed antibiotics, they have been much slower to do likewise with cows and pigs, Samantha Bomkamp reports for the Chicago Tribune. McDonald's, the world's largest burger chain, told Bomkamp it's more difficult to phase out antibiotics in beef and pork, "because it doesn't purchase the entire cow or pig as it does with chickens." The company said that limits its "ability to directly influence change."

McDonald's said it's difficult to monitor cows and pigs, because they often move from farm to farm, leading to a "lack of traceability," Bomkamp writes. Also, McDonald's "buys beef from thousands of ranches, each with an average of just 50 cows," while there are only two main U.S. suppliers of chicken. McDonald's said that with chickens, it "has a clear line of sight from farm to table."

McDonald's also claimed "it could see meat shortages if it moves too quickly to antibiotic-free pork and beef," Bomkamp reports. "While chicken are slaughtered in just weeks, cattle can be two years old when they go to market, leaving far more time in which an animal can get sick. That raises the likelihood that a farmer would need to use antibiotics, even if they weren't using them routinely in the animal's feed as is commonplace in many industrial farms."

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "more than 70 percent of antibiotics important to human medicine in the U.S. are sold for livestock use," Bomkamp writes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization "have said the overuse of antibiotics has led to a global health crisis because the more people are exposed to them, the less effective they are."

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