Fast food giant Chick-fil-A, whose restaurants gross well over $3 million each year, announced this week that it would be working towards an antibiotic-free food supply in coming years. The announcement comes as the public and government regulators alike have become concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in meat production, potentially leading to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The restaurant giant says it will take time to work out all of the details and expects their chickens will be totally antibiotic-free by 2019. “From the hatchery to the processing plant,” the company says it will be counting on suppliers and the USDA to ensure no antibiotics are used in the production of their beloved chicken sandwiches.
While the company won’t reveal how much chicken it uses each year, The Verge reports they sold more than 282 million of their flagship chicken sandwiches in 2010. The restaurant is based in Atlanta, GA. and operates nearly 1,800 locations across the country.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned about the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production, cautioning, “Without urgent action now, more patients will be thrust back to a time before we had effective drugs.”
The problem isn’t when birds who are sick are treated with antibiotics, but when all birds are given a supply of the drugs in order to fatten them up. This practice of dosing the herd or flock with bacteria-killing drugs puts public health in the backseat to Big Ag profits.
Use of antibiotics in the livestock industry accounts for 80% of antibiotic use in the country overall – a huge contribution to antibiotic resistance and the development of superbugs. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria including MRSA are said to develop under these conditions, where “bugs” have evolved to survive the onslaught of traditional antibiotics precisely because of their overuse.
Like Chipotle, Chick-fil-A surely sees this as a method of serving the public health while making a considerable amount of money. They’ve warned the cost of purchasing antibiotic-free chicken could boost their sales prices, but that they are trying to keep those costs to a minimum.
Still, people are willing to pay more for antibiotic-free meat, and some who would otherwise not consume fast food may be able to fool themselves into thinking a fried chicken patty on white bread isn’t so bad if it has an “antibiotic-free” marketing campaign behind it.
In other words, the lucratively profitable fast food company stands to become even richer with this move, a move that could reduce the exposure and lessen the evolution of harmful infections while catering to a more health-conscious consumer base.