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Congresswoman Louise Slaughter

Representing the 25th District of New York

Rep. Slaughter Calls on McDonald's to Make Meat Truly Sustainable by Only Using Beef Raised Without Antibiotics

May 19, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, wrote a letter to McDonald’s Corporation calling on the company to make good on their promise to source hamburger beef from sustainably-raised cows by removing beef raised with antibiotics from the supply chain. Rep. Slaughter is the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a bill that would end the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture by protecting eight classes of antibiotics for human use and the treatment of sick animals.

“Antibiotics are an essential requirement for modern medicine, and scientists around the world are predicting that in as little as one decade, common surgeries like knee and hip replacements, cesarean sections, and dental work could become lethally dangerous due to antibiotic resistance,” Rep. Slaughter wrote. “By primarily sourcing beef from cows raised without antibiotics, and by insisting on antibiotic-free poultry production, McDonald’s can jump-start a worldwide system of sustainable production.”

Read the full letter below:

May 19, 2014

Michele Banik-Rake

Director of Sustainability – Worldwide Supply Chain

McDonald’s Corporation

2915 Jorie Blvd

Oakbrook, IL 60523

Dear Ms. Banik-Rake,

I would like to commend McDonald’s for its recently announced initiative to source hamburger beef from sustainably raised cows and strongly urge you to consider the issue of antibiotic overuse in your supply chain when defining sustainability. For the past seven years, I have been leading the charge in Congress to protect eight classes of antibiotics for human use and the treatment of sick animals through a bill called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). Given that over 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are used in agriculture, a situation that hastens the development of antibiotic resistance, we need to be especially concerned with how our meat is produced.

Beef production is not sustainable if antibiotics are overused. In a previous letter sent to my office in response to a survey I initiated of fast food chains and grocery stores, the McDonald’s Global Policy on Antibiotic Use in Food Animals was described as prohibiting the use of antibiotics in meat production when those drugs are also used in human medicine. However, this policy only applies when the reason for the antibiotic use is growth promotion alone. While this prohibition is important, it is not comprehensive. Your policy still encouraged the “sustainable” use of antibiotics in disease prevention and treatment. I fully support the treatment of sick animals, but I also know that so long as antibiotics are available for the ill-defined purpose of “disease prevention,” there is no real incentive to decrease the overcrowding and insanitary conditions that foster these preventable diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 2 million people contract antibiotic resistant infections each year in the US, and at least 23,000 die as a direct result.[1] Antibiotics are an essential requirement for modern medicine, and scientists around the world are predicting that in as little as one decade, common surgeries like knee and hip replacements, cesarean sections, and dental work could become lethally dangerous due to antibiotic resistance. Some people may get these infections directly from antibiotic resistant bacteria present on their food, but others will suffer because they live near a facility that routinely uses antibiotics.[2],[3],[4] The levels of resistant bacteria present in the environment tie directly to the amounts of antibiotics we use, whether in agriculture or in hospitals.[5],[6]

Even though, as your website suggests, McDonald’s purchases represent less than 2% of the total beef and dairy industry, you have the potential to set the industry standard. And why stop with beef? McDonald’s owns all of the chickens raised for use in your restaurants. With such leverage, you have a real opportunity to lead in sustainable poultry production as well. As you say, the goal is to lead a sea-change in the industry at large. I encourage your commitment to transparency and engagement, and I hope the McDonald’s strategy also includes firm commitments to limit the overall use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. By primarily sourcing beef from cows raised without antibiotics, and by insisting on antibiotic-free poultry production, McDonald’s can jump-start a worldwide system of sustainable production. Animals raised under hygienic and uncrowded conditions will be healthier, reducing their need for antibiotics and increasing animal welfare.

I urge you to consider antibiotic use when crafting McDonald’s policy for sourcing sustainable beef so that generations of people and animals to come can continue to use this precious resource.

Sincerely,

Louise M. Slaughter

 



[1]Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013), https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/pdf/ar-threats-2013-508.pdf.

[2] Margaret Carrel et al., “Residential Proximity to Large Numbers of Swine in Feeding Operations Is Associated with Increased Risk of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus Colonization at Time of Hospital Admission in Rural Iowa Veterans,” Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology: The Official Journal of the Society of Hospital Epidemiologists of America 35, no. 2 (February 2014): 190–92, doi:10.1086/674860.

[3] Jessica L. Rinsky et al., “Livestock-Associated Methicillin and Multidrug Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus Is Present among Industrial, Not Antibiotic-Free Livestock Operation Workers in North Carolina,” ed. Axel Cloeckaert, PLoS ONE 8, no. 7 (July 2, 2013): e67641, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067641.

[4] Carrel et al., “Residential Proximity to Large Numbers of Swine in Feeding Operations Is Associated with Increased Risk of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus Colonization at Time of Hospital Admission in Rural Iowa Veterans.”

[5] Lucie Dutil et al., “Ceftiofur Resistance in Salmonella Enterica Serovar Heidelberg from Chicken Meat and Humans, Canada,” Emerging Infectious Diseases 16, no. 1 (January 2010): 48–54, doi:10.3201/eid1601.090729.

[6] Yvonne Agerso et al., DANMAP 2012 - Use of Antimicrobial Agents and Occurrence of Antimicrobial Resistance in Bacteria from Food Animals, Food and Humans in Denmark (National Food Institute, Statens Serum Institut, September 2013), www.danmap.org.