McDonald’s Antibiotic-Shift Sparks Deep Pressure for Chicken Providers

McDonald’s Antibiotic-Shift Sparks Deep Pressure for Chicken Providers
Food and Diet

Following McDonald’s’ announcement that it intends on removing certain antibiotics from chicken products, food providers are feeling even greater pressure to make similar shifts. Influenced by the fast food giant’s decision, Tyson, KFC, and even Costco are making moves to push antibiotics out of their food.

KFC Pressured to Make a Move

Possibly most affected by McDonald’s’ antibiotic-shift, the world’s largest chain of fried chicken restaurants, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) may be next in line to make the change. The fast food restaurant will likely face measurable pressure from both consumers and advocacy groups since they supply such copious amounts of chicken.

KFC is owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc, which has no publicly stated policy on antibiotic use.

“The train has left the station,” Bob Goldin, a food services company consultant at Technomic in Chicago, said of McDonald’s influence on U.S. chicken production standards.

According to Reuters, Yum, which also owns the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains, declined to discuss its standards for antibiotic use in meat production.

“The chicken served in our U.S. restaurants is USDA high quality, and free of antibiotics,” the company said in an emailed response to Reuters queries.

But the emailed response may not mean what you think. According to Steven Roach, food safety program director at Food Animal Concerns Trust in Chicago, the antibiotic-free statements refers to low antibiotic residues in the meat when it is served – not the actual antibiotics fed to chickens before they are slaughtered.

Costco Announces an Antibiotic Shift

Just days after McDonald’s made its announcement regarding the antibiotic shift, retailer Costco Wholesale Corp told Reuters it plans to halt the sale of chicken and meat raised with human antibiotics – another move that will put further pressure on all meat suppliers.

“We are working towards, and working with our suppliers and the regulatory agencies… to see how we can get rid of shared-use antibiotics in animals,” Craig Wilson, vice president of food safety at the Issaquah, Washington-based retail giant, said in a phone interview.

“I think all of us want to move to a point where we can get the human-use antibiotics out of the system. It’s going to take time…I mean, you’ve got to protect human health beyond everything, and so we think eliminating shared-use antibiotics is the right way to go.”

Given that Costco sells 80 million rotisserie chickens a year, we will undoubtedly see similar changes coming in the near future.

Tyson Continues Making Changes Toward Antibiotic-Free Chicken

Also following the announcement made by McDonald’s, Tyson, the nations largest chicken producer, told Reuters that it has removed a key antibiotic for human use known as gentamicin from company hatcheries.

Tyson said that the antibiotic gentamicin as well as others have been out of use at its 35 hatcheries since October 1, 2014, but has not previously given details of what drugs were used at the hatcheries.

Tyson says it does not use antibiotics for growth promotion on the farms, but does use them “when prescribed by a veterinarian to treat or prevent disease.”

Chicken producer Purdue also announced last summer that it had stopped using all antibiotics in its hatcheries because it wanted to move away from conventional antibiotic use. Additionally, chicken supplier Chik-fil-A said its entire supply chain will concert to antibiotic-free chicken by 2019 (with 20% of its chicken currently being antibiotic-free).