Medical professionals urge McDonald’s to reduce antibiotic use in its beef supply chain

Media Contacts
Lydia Palumbo

Public pressure grows for McDonald’s to meet 2018 commitment as antibiotic resistance poses public health threat

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

CHICAGO — More than 125 medical professionals organized by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund sent a letter to McDonald’s Thursday urging the company to meet its 2018 commitment to reduce antibiotic use in its beef supply chain. The coalition delivered the letter at the start of World Antibiotic Awareness Week to stress the urgency of taking action to stop overusing our life-saving medicines in agriculture. Otherwise, the drugs may no longer heal sick people. 

“We write to you as health professionals to express our ongoing concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production. We see the devastating consequences of antibiotic resistance first-hand in the medical field, and we’re urging you to take action now to reduce antibiotic use and help keep these life-saving medicines effective,” states the letter. 

McDonald’s, the single largest buyer of beef in the United States, committed nearly three years ago to set targets for reducing the use of medically important antibiotics in its beef supply chain by the end of 2020. However, to date, McDonald’s either has failed to set any targets, or, if it has, the company has failed to announce those targets publicly.    

“Consumers are hungry for meat raised without overusing our life-saving medicines. As a leader in the fast food sector, McDonald’s already helped move the chicken industry toward responsible antibiotic use. Now, we’re urging the company to keep its promises and do the same for beef,” says Lydia Palumbo, Antibiotics Campaign Associate with PIRG.    

Several influential members of the medical community signed the letter, including Sujit Suchindran, MD MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine; Catherine Liu, MD, Professor & Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; John Pauk, Medical Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infectious Diseases at the Swedish Medical Center; Joshua Wolf, Medical Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, Associate Dean, Global Health Sciences, Co-Director of IPATH at the University of California San Diego. 

Large restaurant chains such as McDonald’s need a steady supply of meat. Unfortunately, too many of the industrial farms that produce meat raise animals in unsanitary, overcrowded and stressful conditions, and then give them medically important antibiotics to prevent the diseases that thrive in those circumstances.. The routine use of these antibiotics creates drug-resistant bacteria that can spread off farms and sicken people. Without meaningful action to stop antibiotic overuse, drug-resistant infections could cause 10 million global deaths annually by 2050.

“Antibiotics are critical to our modern medical system. Reducing antibiotic use in human medicine and food production is critical to keep these life-saving medications effective,” says Sameer Patel, MD MPH.