Second Annual “Chain Reaction” Report Shows Some Improvement in Antibiotic Policies Among Food Service Chains

antibioticThe war on antibiotics has expanded from the medical field into the fast food and casual dining industries with franchises now being tested for antibiotics. The good news is that some companies are really doing their part to remove [unnecessary] antibiotics from the general populace. The bad news is that we still have a long way to go.

For example, in terms of antibiotic use (or lack thereof), Chipotle and Panera Bread are leading the charge. Subway received a B grade, which is somewhat expected; similarly, McDonald’s barely passed with a C-plus grade.
This is now the second consecutive year that the Natural Resources Defense Council—and other organizations—rated the country’s 25 largest fast-food and fast-casual restaurants on their policies regarding antibiotic use. Alas, the majority of the companies on the list received a failing grade, but the second “Chain Reaction” report does show that we are making progress. Particularly, there has been great progress in sourcing antibiotic-free chicken. In addition, the report shows that Chipotle, Panera, and Subway all have stronger policies on both pork and beef.

Still, report co-author Kari Hamerschlag, of Friends of the Earth, in Berkeley, remarks, “We were really encouraged to see that twice as many restaurant chains had adopted new policies,” largely attributing the change to pressure from both consumers and shareholders. “We had hoped to see even more progress on beef and pork.”

Generally, it is more cost effective to switch antibiotic policies on chicken because it is easier to change the related farming methods for than it is for beef or pork. This, actually, was the sole reason McDonald’s was able to improve its C-grade from last year to a C-plus-grade this year, Hamerschlag notes,

She continues, “With McDonald’s there’s a been a lot of shareholder action around this issue. I think next year we’re going to see more progress on pork and beef from McDonald’s.”

Millford, CT-based Subway made the biggest jump—up from an “F” grade last year to a “B” grade this year—mostly because it was the only chain of the 25 to adopt new policies on all types of meat. According to the report, approximately 2/3 of Subaway’s chicken is now raised free from antibiotics. The company hopes to introduce antibiotic free turkey, in some form, by the end of this year.

While not included in the report, California’s In-N-Out Burger also announced plans to phase out antibiotics in its beef. However, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s are all included, and all increased their rankings. The companies that failed to show improvement—Starbucks and Burger King, among them—have not formed strong antibiotics policies.

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