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Boston, MA. The consumer advocacy organization, MASSPIRG Education Fund, is calling on McDonald’s to commit to a concrete timeline for phasing out the routine use of medically-important antibiotics in their beef and pork supply chains. The MASSPIRG Education Fund and its partner groups are singling out the iconic fast food company because of its outsized influence as the biggest purchaser of beef in the United States and the vagueness of their long-term antibiotics plans. Health experts, including the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics, warn that the routine use of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick fuels drug-resistant bacteria, a major health threat to humans.
“Protecting antibiotics requires action, not reaction. If we don’t act now to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, we’ll face a world in which common infections can once again kill,” said Deirdre Cummings, Consumer Program Director, MASSPIRG Education Fund. “The Big Mac can make a big dent in stopping the misuse of antibiotics in our food system.”
"Every day in my job as an infectious disease physician, I see the devastating consequences that antibiotic overuse and resistance have on patients, their families, and the health care system,” said Dr. Sujit Suchindran, a Boston area infectious disease physician specializing in antibiotic resistance, who provided a video interview on the public health issue. “I've had to treat patients where we've essentially had no antibiotic options. We need to do all that we can to preserve the power of antibiotics for future generations. If we don't, we'll not only be unable to fight infections, but we'll also be unable to provide surgery, safely treat cancer, or offer organ transplantation."
“We are seeing an increasing number of patients with multi-drug resistant infections, which are difficult to treat due to limited antibiotic options,” said Afrah Sait MD, Infectious Disease Fellow at Tufts Medical Center. “In order to prevent bacteria from becoming resistant and ensure our antibiotics remain effective for patients who need them, it is critical for all of us to carefully consider when and how antibiotics are used and employ them only when absolutely necessary for saving lives.”
As part of the national campaign launch, USPIRG Education Fund has started gathering signatures on a petition urging McDonald’s to take action on its beef and pork supply chains. Nearly 10,000 people have already signed on in support. PIRG advocates and volunteers held events across the country at McDonald’s restaurants, and hospitals to educate people about the dangers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the important role McDonald’s can play. In Massachusetts, MASSPIRG Education Fund’s Deirdre Cummings interviewed Dr. Sujit Suchindran, a Boston area infectious disease physician specializing in antibiotic resistance. The message was clear: a commitment from McDonald’s to stop selling beef and pork raised with the routine use of antibiotics will help protect our ability to treat infections and save lives.
McDonald’s recently released a vision for phasing routine antibiotic use out of their entire meat supply chain globally, but it has yet to commit to a timeline for making that vision a reality.
To McDonald’s credit, the company no longer serves chicken raised with medically-important antibiotics, a commitment that it met ahead of schedule in 2016. Consumer and health advocates, including MASSPIRG Education Fund and partners, applauded the company’s actions and influence. Now, fourteen of the top 25 restaurant chains in the U.S. have committed to no longer source chicken raised with routine antibiotics, according to the Chain Reaction report.
“We convinced McDonald’s to stop serving chicken raised on life-saving medicines,” noted Matthew Wellington, Antibiotics Program Director, U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Now, it’s time for the biggest burger chain in the country to make the same commitment for all the meat they sell. Doing so will help protect doctors’ ability to treat infections and save lives.”
The latest numbers from the Food and Drug Administration show sales of medically-important antibiotics to food animals decreased from 2015 through 2016, marking the first decline in year to year sales on record. The decline suggests that actions from restaurants in recent years are making an impact. The numbers also separate species for the first time and show significant differences among the percentage of medically important antibiotics going to chicken, swine and cattle—chicken accounts for only 6% of sales, while beef accounts for 43% and pork for 37%.
Some companies including Chipotle, Subway, Panera Bread, Niman Ranch and Applegate have already moved away from all meat raised with routine antibiotic use, or are in the process of doing so. If McDonald’s, which sells a billion pounds of beef in the U.S. each year and a significant amount of pork, commits to only purchase beef and pork raised without misusing antibiotics, we can take a significant step in ensuring that antibiotics are preserved for treating sick people.
Background info on antibiotic overuse on farms:
Millions of Americans get sick each year with antibiotic resistant infections and at least 23,000 of them die. A recent study estimates that by 2050, drug-resistant bacteria may kill more people worldwide than cancer kills today. Some of the biggest users of antibiotics are large, industrial farms, many of which routinely give antibiotics to livestock and poultry even when animals aren’t sick. Approximately 70% of medically-important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use on food animals. To keep antibiotics working, we need to limit their use to situations when animals are sick, or to control verified infectious disease outbreaks on the farm.
Photo and video credit to James Woodbury, MA.
Top Photo: Shelby Luce, Antibiotics Fellow with USPIRG (back), Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG's Consumer Program Director, Dr. Sujit Suchindran, Boston-area infection disease physician speacializing in antibiotic resistance.
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