McDonald’s said on Tuesday that it plans to reduce the use of antibiotics in its global beef supply, a major step by the world’s largest restaurant chain aimed at reducing bacteria resistant to traditional treatments.
The company plans to work with beef producers in its 10 largest beef sourcing markets to measure and understand the current use of antibiotics important to human health across the supply chain.
By 2020, McDonald’s said, it plans to establish reduction targets for medically important antibiotics in these markets and the company will start reporting on its progress starting in 2022.
The move follows McDonald’s efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics in its chicken and comes as the Chicago-based burger giant has promised to use its “scale for good” as it seeks to improve its image among consumers.
It also promises to shift the restaurant industry into this direction. Given its size, with nearly 38,000 global locations, the company tends to push the supply chain into a certain direction while giving rivals incentives to keep pace.
“McDonald’s believes antibiotic resistance is a critical public health issue, and we take seriously our unique position to use our scale for good to continue to address this challenge,” Keith Kenny, McDonald’s global vice president of sustainability.
Advocacy groups have been pushing McDonald’s and other chains to reduce the use of human antibiotics in beef. Farmers and ranchers have given animals feed processed with antibiotics to improve their growth.
That practice has come under fire in recent years, as more bacteria have emerged to resist typical antibiotic treatment.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), which has been calling on McDonald’s for years to reduce antibiotics in its meat supply, lauded the company’s move to reduce use of antibiotics in beef. Earlier this year, the group asked McDonald’s to phase out the use of routine antibiotics in its beef and pork supply.
“The Golden Arches just raised the bar for responsible antibiotic use in meat production,” Matthew Wellington, antibiotics program director for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, said in a statement. “We can’t afford to misuse these precious medicines. Otherwise, we risk losing our ability to treat life-threatening infections.”
McDonald’s said it has been developing its policy for the past 18 months, consulting with veterinarians, public health leaders and beef producers. The company said that it ultimately will work to replace antibiotics with long-term solutions to prevent diseases and protect animals’ health.
The company said that it first developed a position on responsible antibiotics use in 2003. In 2016 McDonald’s U.S. market began serving only chicken not treated with human antibiotics. The next year the company expanded its policy to chicken in markets around the world.
But McDonald’s has long signaled its intention to reduce antibiotics in beef, a tougher supply chain to change given that it takes longer to raise cattle than it does chicken.
“The path for creating and implementing a global antibiotic use policy for beef is unprecedented,” Dan Thomson, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, said in a statement.
McDonald’s also joined the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Antimicrobial Resistance Challenge.” The challenge was launched in September to accelerate the fight against antimicrobial resistance around the world. More than 130 organizations have joined the challenge.