Starbucks Ditches Routine Use of Medically Important Antibiotics in Poultry

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG


Seattle—Starbucks announced a commitment today to serve only poultry raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics in U.S. stores by 2020 after dialogue with Green Century Capital Management, a leader in environmentally responsible investing. The Seattle-based chain’s commitment may help push the meat industry further away from overusing life-saving medicines.

“Starbucks, an iconic brand, just jumped into the fight to stop the overuse of antibiotics,” said Matthew Wellington, Field Director of the Antibiotics Program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “We applaud Starbucks’ commitment on antibiotics, it’s another step toward protecting these life-saving medicines for future generations.”

To make it a truly strong policy, Starbucks must come up with a way to verify it. Otherwise consumers might be buying a pig in a poke. The company should also move swiftly to expand this policy from only poultry to its entire meat supply chain.

A woman in Nevada died recently from a bacterial infection that was resistant to every antibiotic available in the U.S. It paints a bleak picture of what may be the new normal unless swift action is taken to stop the widespread overuse of antibiotics in both healthcare and agriculture.

“Starbucks’ commitment to sell poultry raised without the use of routine antibiotics can have great benefits for veterinary and human medicine. It’s exactly the kind of leadership we need now,” said Paul Pottinger, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at the University of Washington Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  “Antibiotics are a precious resource. The more we use them, the sooner we will lose them. We need to keep these medications effective for the treatment of infections—both in animals and in humans.”

In the United States, approximately 70% of medically important antibiotics sold are for use on livestock and poultry. The drugs are often given routinely to animals that aren’t sick to promote growth and prevent disease that can be common in unsanitary conditions. This overuse can encourage the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which can spread to people through various pathways.

Although government action has been slow in the U.S., the marketplace is beginning to move away from routine antibiotics use. In addition to Starbucks, major restaurants like McDonald’s, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s have made various commitments to phase out the unnecessary use of antibiotics in their U.S. operations.

Other restaurants should follow Starbucks and serve meat raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics, especially those that lag far behind their industry peers like KFC and Olive Garden, the latter of which is owned by Darden Restaurants, Inc.

“These miracles of modern medicine are slipping through our fingers,” said Wellington.  “Marketplace actors like Starbucks can help us hold tighter by using their purchasing power to change the way meat suppliers use antibiotics,” he said.

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U.S. PIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. For decades, we’ve stood up for consumers, countering the influence of big banks, insurers, chemical manufacturers and other powerful special interests.