Antibiotics: Yummy Yucky

Two of the three Yum! Brand companies announced new antibiotics policies this week. One was a promising step to save antibiotics. The other was more "yucky."

Two of the three Yum! Brand companies announced new antibiotics policies this week. 

The distinct policies within one corporation remind me of the Yummy Yucky children’s book. Taco Bell’s chicken will come from farms that don’t misuse antibiotics — yummy! KFC and Pizza Hut will continue to serve meat from farms that overuse antibiotics by routinely giving them to animals, even when not sick. Yucky.

The routine use of antibiotics on livestock and poultry operations is contributing to what public health experts call a “post-antibiotic era,” a time when our life-saving medicines will no longer work, unless changes are made now. Administering daily doses of our life-saving drugs to animals that aren’t sick has turned farms into breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria (aka “superbugs”), which already kill an estimated 23,000 Americans each year. By 2050, superbugs may kill more people worldwide than cancer.

So Taco Bell’s plan to raise its chicken without medically-important antibiotics by early 2017 is a really big deal. Bravo!

KFC, also of Yum! Brands, announced a policy that will allow the use of antibiotics to “maintain chicken health.” That phrase implies that KFC-bound chickens will still get routine doses of our life-saving drugs as a prophylactic against infections, the same routine use of antibiotics that’s causing bacterial resistance. It’s not a solution. Pizza Hut, the final Yum! Brands sub-brand, has said it’s working on its policy, but has nothing yet in writing. 

Here’s my suggestion to the latter two Yum! Brands: Follow the lead of Taco Bell. Better yet, go a step further and do what Subway did late last year — announce a policy for all meats. Stopping the routine use of antibiotics is the only way to truly help save antibiotics and protect public health.


Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.

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