Fast-food giant McDonald's ($MCD) announced Wednesday that it will phase out all chicken raised with antibiotics used in human healthcare within the next two years. The policy is part of the company's new Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals, according to a statement from the company.
"McDonald's believes that any animals that become ill deserve appropriate veterinary care and our suppliers will continue to treat poultry with prescribed antibiotics, and then they will no longer be included in our food supply," said Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North America Supply Chain, in the statement. The only antibiotics that will be exempt from the new policy are ionophores, which are not used to treat people, the company added.
Jonathan Kaplan, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Food and Agriculture Program, tells Reuters the news may be a "tipping point for antibiotic use in the poultry industry. McDonald's has so much purchasing power and brand recognition, I think we're seeing a new industry standard here."
The action by McDonald's comes amid a movement to stem the rise of illnesses in people that have become resistant to antibiotic treatments. On Tuesday, four U.S. senators introduced a bill that compels the FDA to pull an antibiotic's approval if its maker fails to prove the drug does not endanger human health. The bill is a follow-up to 2013 FDA guidelines meant to stop the use of antibiotics to promote growth of food animals. It was introduced by senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and sponsored by senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The new bill "lays out a plan for FDA to go forward and standards for determining judicious use of antibiotics in food-producing animals," said Gail Hansen, a public health veterinarian and senior officer for the antibiotic resistance project at the Pew Trusts, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal blog Pharmalot. "The FDA has talked about growth promotion, but that's only part of how drugs are used for food animals. This is the next big part."
Although many have applauded the FDA's efforts to control antibiotic use on farms, critics say more needs to be done. In December, Pew released a report revealing that 66 of the 287 products affected by the FDA's new guidance still have language in their labels that would allow farmers to give antibiotics to animals for growth promotion.