Shareholders press Yum Brands to ditch chicken raised with antibiotics

KFC is under increasing pressure to ditch chicken raised with antibiotics.

Kentucky Fried Chicken owner Yum Brands ($YUM) has been under pressure in recent months from animal health activists urging the fast-food giant to shun meat from birds raised with antibiotics. Now those activists are ratcheting up their fight, filing a shareholder proposal August 9 requesting that the company phase out antibiotics-laden poultry at KFC.

The proposal was filed by shareholders As You Sow, a California group that promotes environmentally responsible practices by corporations, and Sisters of St. Francis in Philadelphia, according to Reuters. It comes just a few months after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) posted a series of videos and a petition online blasting KFC for lagging behind its fast-food rivals in phasing out meat from animals raised with antibiotics.

McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s are among the fast-food chains that have vowed to phase out chickens raised with antibiotics that are also used in human medicine. Those moves come amid a push by federal regulators to control the rise of drug-resistant “superbugs” by limiting the use of antibiotics in production animals. Yum’s other major brands, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, have made similar plans.

KFC has promised that by 2017, it will only sell chickens that have been given antibiotics to keep them healthy and that are being treated with the drugs by veterinarians. But that’s not enough for critics, who believe that stance will do little to stem the routine use of antibiotics on farms.

"Yum Brands' silence in the face of this looming antibiotic resistance crisis is bad for business," Austin Wilson, As You Sow's environmental health program manager, said in a press release. The group reports that 86 advocacy organizations sent a letter to Yum back in January urging it to take a stronger stance on antibiotic stewardship, but that all three of its fast-food brands get “failing grades” on the issue.

As You Sow has charted some triumphs in the anti-antibiotics movement. The group filed shareholder proposals directed against Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Wendy’s and Burger King, but withdrew them after the chains said they would adopt more restrictive antibiotics rules by the end of this year, Reuters reports.

- here’s the Reuters story
- get the press release from As You Sow here

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