Consumer ranking of fast-food chains' antibiotics in meat calls out FDA, industry for change

A recently released consumer report that ranked U.S. fast-food companies on their efforts to eliminate the use of antibiotics in meat also called on the FDA to strengthen its rules and enforcement of the beef, pork and poultry industry.

The report, which was developed by a coalition of environmental and consumer advocacy groups, focused mainly on fast-food chains as part of an effort to motivate both the restaurants and consumers to force the meat production industry from using human antibiotics that have been linked to the increase of "superbug" bacteria resistant to medicines used to treat a variety of bacteria-related illnesses.

"Eliminating the routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is an important step towards creating a healthier food system that addresses one of our nation's most pressing public health threats, alongside larger problems of industrial livestock production and animal welfare," the report said.

It called for fast-food chains to encourage their suppliers to improve management practices in their facilities, including reducing crowding of animals, providing more hygienic conditions, better diets and longer weaning periods. By improving animal welfare, the group said there was a better chance of reducing the need for routine antibiotics used for prevention.

In the report, the authors called on the FDA to act quickly to adopt mandatory policies prohibiting the use of medically important antibiotics for both growth promotion and disease prevention.

"The agency must also create greater transparency by mandating the collection of information on antibiotic use by livestock producers in order to demonstrate that their policies are leading to meaningful reductions in the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock production," the report said, adding that Congress must also pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which has been endorsed by 450 health, agriculture, environmental, food safety and nutrition, animal protection, religious, labor, and consumer advocate groups.

Additionally, the report warned of the use of hormones and beta-agonists it says pose animal welfare concerns and carry a potential risk to human health. The beef industry uses 6 hormones to promote faster growth and weight gain--three naturally occurring hormones (estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone) and three synthetic hormones (zeranol, melengestrol acetate, and trenbolone acetate).

"The full human health risks from hormone residues in beef are still emerging," according to the report.

Two days after the report was released, a McDonald's ($MCD) shareholder group--the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters in Boerne, TX--filed a shareholder proposal calling for the chain to ban all of its meat suppliers from using antibiotics, with the exception of treating sick animals. Earlier this year, McDonald's announced it would reduce the amount of antibiotics used in its chickens, but didn't institute the same policy for beef and pork.

- check out the report (PDF)
- read the shareholder proposal story