Antibiotic resistance poses a threat to global health and food security. And McDonald's — one of the globe's largest purchasers of beef — gets it: The more that antibiotics are given to livestock, the more quickly bacteria could adapt and become resistant to them. Ultimately, experts say this could render the drugs ineffective for people.
When it comes to reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock, there's been a lot of progress in the poultry industry. Back in 2015, McDonald's announced a plan to prohibit its chicken suppliers from using antibiotics that are important to treating human health. Many other food chains did the same.
Now, McDonald's says it will use its massive scale to reduce the use of antibiotics in cows that are part of its global beef supply. "I personally think this is probably the most ambitious project that McDonald's has ever taken on," says Bruce Feinberg, a senior director at McDonald's Corp., who oversees global quality systems for protein and dairy products. The company will measure antibiotic use in its top 10 beef markets, including the U.S., Brazil and New Zealand — and then will set targets for reduction by the end of 2020.
Environmentalists are applauding the commitment. "McDonald's is the first major burger chain to announce a comprehensive antibiotic use reduction policy for all beef sold by its restaurants — and the largest, by far," Lena Brook, interim director of food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council, writes in a statement. The NRDC says at a time when about 40 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in the livestock sector in the U.S. go to the beef industry, compared to just 6 percent for chicken, "addressing overuse in beef production is critical to combat drug resistance."
The new commitment from McDonald's comes at a time when advocates have turned up the volume on their criticism. U.S. PIRG Education Fund, a consumer advocacy group, and more than 80 other stakeholder groups have called on the chain to cut routine antibiotic use. In May, some of these groups delivered a petition to McDonald's during its shareholder meeting with more than 150,000 signatures.