12 Dec 2018 --- McDonald’s is to set limits for antibiotic use in its beef supply chain by the end of 2020. The fast food giant has announced a new policy to reduce the overall use of antibiotics important to human health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), which applies across 85 percent of its global beef supply chain. As one of the largest food chains, the company could be setting the standard for other industry players in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
According to WHO, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health and food security. With the policy introduction, McDonald’s reports it “is doing its part” to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for human and animal health.
“McDonald’s believes antibiotic resistance is a critical public health issue and we take seriously our unique position to use our scale for good to continue to address this challenge. We are excited to partner with our beef supply chain around the world to accelerate the responsible use of antibiotics, while continuing to look after the health and welfare of those animals in our supply chain,” says Keith Kenny, Global Vice President, Sustainability, McDonald’s.
Strategic and phased approach
As there is limited antibiotic usage data available across the global beef industry, McDonald’s reports that it is taking a strategic and phased approach to reducing the overall use of medically important antibiotics in beef.
The company is partnering with supplying beef producers in its top 10 beef sourcing markets – Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, the UK and the US – to measure and understand current usage of antibiotics across a diverse, global supply chain.Click to EnlargeAs one of the largest food chains, the company could be setting the standard for other industry players in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
By the end of 2020, based on the information collected, reduction targets will be established for medically important antibiotics for these markets. Beginning in 2022, the company will be reporting progress against antibiotic reduction targets across its top 10 beef sourcing markets.
“Our overall approach to responsible use of antibiotics focuses on refining their selection and administration, reducing their use, and ultimately replacing antibiotics with long-term solutions to prevent diseases and protect animal health and welfare. With this in mind, we remain committed to treating animals when needed,” a company press release reads.
“The path for creating and implementing a global antibiotic use policy for beef is unprecedented. I’ve been encouraged by the thoroughness with which McDonald’s has engaged diverse experts while creating this policy and the seriousness with which they take this important issue,” says Dan Thomson, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University.
This latest announcement builds on fifteen years of progress since McDonald’s first developed a position on responsible antibiotics use in 2003. In 2016, McDonald’s US reportedly reached its commitment to serve only chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine. Further, in 2017, McDonald’s announced an expanded antibiotics policy for chicken in markets around the world, as well as a refreshed Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship statement with commitments to create responsible-use antibiotic approaches for beef, dairy beef and pork.
McDonald’s has also joined the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Challenge. Launched in September, the AMR Challenge is a year-long effort to accelerate the fight against antimicrobial resistance around the world.
In September, McDonald’s US claimed to have reached a milestone moment, by scrapping all artificial flavors, colors and preservatives from artificial sources from its top-selling classic burger portfolio. However, the pickle still contains an artificial preservative so customers have to skip it if they want a totally artificial free burger.
Earlier this year, Dutch farmers showed that reducing antibiotics use in livestock farming is possible without negatively impacting overall economic and technical farm performance, a Rabobank reported. This development counters the risk of antimicrobial resistance, which is a key driver for policymakers and industry players around the world to reduce the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics, according to Rabobank.
Several European countries banned the use of certain antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) during the 1990s and the EU saw a complete ban on all AGP use by 2006 and now several countries have legislation in place to curb farm antibiotic use.
Countries wanting to import meat into Europe, for example, will now have to abide by EU laws on antibiotics as part of a new regulation on veterinary medicine. European Parliament has decided that products of animal origin imported by third countries will now have to meet the EU’s requirements of antibiotics use.
With the rise of antibiotic resistance and the lack of new antibiotics being discovered there is pressure on the farming industry to stop this practice. Large industry players such as McDonald’s can aid in leading the way.
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