California-based fast food chain In-N-Out Burger has gained a loyal following out west for its hand-cut French fries and use of nonfrozen beef, but it has been slow to follow the rest of the industry's lead and disavow meat from animals raised with antibiotics. That changed in late February, when the company announced it would phase out beef raised with antibiotics that are important in human medicine. Public health advocates have long believed that routine use of antibiotics in food animals is contributing to the rise of "superbugs" in people that are resistant to the drugs.
In-N-Out's move came after 50 organizations, ranging from environmental groups to consumer-affairs associations, delivered a letter to the company's headquarters urging it to give up beef routinely raised with antibiotics. Volunteers also passed out brochures and asked people walking near the chain's outlets to be photographed next to a sign reading "I'm an In-N-Out lover, but I'm hungry for beef raised without routine antibiotics." The photos were posted on Twitter and Instagram.
Friends of the Earth, one of the 50 groups that signed the letter, is requesting that In-N-Out provide a timeline for eliminating antibiotics-raised meat. But overall, the coalition is applauding the company for making the switch. "We're thrilled that In-N-Out is responding so quickly to consumer demand," said Jason Pfeifle, public health advocate for CALPIRG Education Fund, another organization that pushed for the change, in a press release. "If In-N-Out follows through on these commitments, it will be an important win for public health."
Over the past year, several fast-food chains have abandoned meat from animals raised with antibiotics, drugs that in the past were frequently used for nonhealth purposes like promoting faster growth. They include McDonald's ($MCD), Shake Shack and Subway. Poultry producers Tyson and Perdue have also adopted antibiotics-free policies. In October, In-N-Out's home state passed the nation's toughest law on antibiotics use after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting use of the drugs for fattening up animals and requiring they only be prescribed by veterinarians.
Advocacy groups have been pressuring the food industry to adopt antibiotic-free policies ever since the FDA announced its "judicious use" rules for use of the drugs in animals in 2013. The industry has three years to comply with the rules, but many organizations believe government restrictions don't go far enough to stop the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections.
"While the U.S. government has taken some action, it is not enough," said Laura Rogers, deputy director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University's Milken School of Public Health, in a press release from Friends of the Earth. "We need companies, like In-N-Out Burger, to harness their purchasing power and demand that the meat they serve is raised with responsible antibiotic use."