PIRG Education Fund urges McDonald’s to meet commitment to reduce antibiotic use in beef supply

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

CHICAGO– PIRG Education Fund is calling on McDonald’s, the single largest purchaser of beef in the United States, to fulfill its commitment to reduce antibiotic use in its beef supply chain. The fast food giant committed in 2018 to set antibiotic reduction targets across 85% of its global beef supply chain by the end of 2020, but it has still not announced these targets.

“McDonald’s can send such a strong message to the beef industry that it’s time to stop overusing life-saving antibiotics by cutting use in its own beef supply chain. But missing its deadline for doing so sends the exact wrong message,” said Lydia Palumbo, Antibiotics Campaign associate with PIRG Education Fund.  

McDonald’s has a history of listening to public opinion and concerns. In 2016, after PIRG Education Fund worked alongside other consumer and health groups to show consumer support, McDonald’s stopped buying chicken from producers that use medically-important antibiotics. This helped to propel a massive shift away from overusing antibiotics in the chicken industry. The company can do the same for the beef industry, which accounts for 41% of medically important antibiotics sold to meat producers.  

That’s why the PIRG Education Fund will mobilize doctors, responsible farmers, and consumers in its campaign to urge McDonald’s to set targets for reducing antibiotic use in its beef supply chain by the end of 2021. Nearly 7,000 people have already signed the petition urging McDonald’s to act. 

In PIRG Education Fund’s recent Cutting Antibiotics: Moving the Marketplace webinar, stakeholders shared their perspectives on the threat of antibiotic resistance and how meat producers could be part of the solution. 

“We really have to approach the tackling of antibiotic resistance from all perspectives. It requires collaboration across all aspects of veterinary medicine, farms, and human medicine to promote judicious antibiotic use. One thing we should learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that an infectious disease is everybody’s problem,” said Sameer Patel, MD MPH on the webinar. 

Other panelists stressed that consumers have the ability to push for change.

“The consumers, in the long run, are the ones that dictate what the industry actually does. If they want more antibiotic free products, the industry will have to change what they’re doing and make it work,” said John Tarpoff, vice president of beef at Niman Ranch & Panorama Organic Grass-fed Beef.

Industrial farms use these drugs to prevent disease in animals raised in unsanitary, overcrowded and stressful conditions. The routine use of these medically important antibiotics breeds drug resistant bacteria that can spread off farms and get people sick. 

“Ultimately it comes down to where the pressure is coming from and where the incentives are at. If it’s from consumers, it’s important to ask more questions and demand clarity about where their meat is coming from,” said Joseph Fischer, sales manager at Fischer Farms.

A landmark study estimated that without swift action to stop antibiotic overuse, drug-resistant infections across the world could claim 10 million lives annually by 2050. Nearly two thirds of the antibiotics considered important to human medicine that are sold in the U.S. go to meat production.