Taco Bell makes a fashionably late appearance at the antibiotic-free party

Taco Bell

Taco Bell was late to the cage-free egg party, and now, it’s making a delayed appearance at the latest animal health soiree. The company recently agreed to stop using antibiotics in its food, trailing behind some of its fast-food peers.

Taco Bell will phase out antibiotics, starting by eliminating them from its chicken by the end of Q1 2017, the company said in a statement. The move comes after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and more than 80 other organizations sent a letter to Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum Brands ($YUM), calling on them to improve their antibiotics policies.

Yum had already agreed to eliminate antibiotics “critically important” to human medicine in chicken sold at their restaurants by the end of 2016, but the organizations wanted the company to go a step forward.

The groups outlined a three-point action plan for Yum, which included ending routine use of medically important antibiotics in chicken sold in their restaurants, phasing out routine use of antibiotics for all their meat supply and getting a third-party audit to make sure they were meeting their antibiotic-free goals. Yum should also implement “better management practices” on farms to improve animal welfare, the organizations said in their letter.

“A meaningful commitment on antibiotics will allow Yum to join the ranks of restaurant industry leaders on this issue, like Subway, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Panera, Chipotle, and many others that are responding to powerful consumer demand for meat and poultry raised without the routine use of these important human medicines,” the groups said.

Activist groups are celebrating Taco Bell’s latest effort. “The taco giant’s commitment shows the tide in the marketplace is continuing to turn for antibiotics overuse,” Jonathan Kaplan, director of the NRDC’s Food and Agriculture program, said in a statement. “We look forward to a more detailed plan for making these improvements, including for how consumers will be able to verify that Taco Bell is keeping its word. The company’s fast food peers--and especially its sister restaurant chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken--should take note and follow shortly behind.”

But Taco Bell’s antibiotics-free pledge comes after many of its rivals already rolled out similar policies. McDonald’s ($MCD), Chick-fil-A, Chipotle ($CMG) and Panera ($PNRA) have all said they would cut back on, or in some cases, eliminate antibiotics. In March 2015, McDonald’s upped the ante with plans to only source chicken raised without antibiotics within the next two years.

The fast food titan’s food set off a trend in the industry. In October, Subway said it would transition to only serving meat from animals that have never received antibiotics.

The sandwich giant’s move went “beyond McDonald’s commitment” and marked “giant step forward in the ongoing effort to get meat raised with routine antibiotics off more plates and menus,” the NRDC said at the time.

- read Taco Bell’s statement
- here’s the NRDC release
- read the letter (PDF)

Related Articles:
Taco Bell joins fast food peers with cage-free egg pledge
Subway ups the ante on antibiotic-free meat pledge