Slaughter Pushes McDonald’s to Take Stronger Action to Combat the Growing Threat of Antibiotic Resistance
WASHINGTON, DC — Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter (NY-25), the only microbiologist in Congress and a leader in the fight to save antibiotics, today urged McDonald's Corporation to take stronger action to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. She encouraged President and CEO Steve Easterbrook to develop plans outlining the responsible use of all medically important antibiotics that covers all species in McDonald’s supply chain and all countries it operates in. This continues Slaughter’s dialogue with McDonald’s, encouraging them to end the misuse of medically important antibiotics among their beef and chicken suppliers. It also follows a 2012 survey conducted by Slaughter’s office of 60 leading food companies asking about their use of animals raised with antibiotics.
“McDonald’s is a world-wide brand and one of the largest purchasers of beef, pork, and chicken globally. With this market power comes a significant responsibility for helping address this crisis by ending the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” Slaughter wrote to Easterbrook. “While it has made some progress, McDonald’s must do more to help protect consumers and combat this global public health crisis.”
Companies such as Panera, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Bell and Evans, Ozark Mountain Pork, and Sweetgreen are leading examples of businesses that have succeeded without relying upon the routine use of antibiotics. According to Slaughter’s survey findings, these companies provide a high degree of transparency into their food production processes and do not use antibiotics on healthy animals. Meanwhile, the majority of surveyed companies were found to routinely use antibiotics in food animals, both as a preventive health measure and to promote faster animal growth. At that time, McDonald’s left some key survey questions unanswered and it was clear the company used antibiotics on healthy and sick animals for purposes other than growth promotion.
Since that time, a number of the surveyed companies have been integrated into larger companies while new competitors like Shake Shack have demonstrated they are able to succeed while using meat raised without unnecessary antibiotics.
Slaughter has engaged in a continued dialogue with McDonald’s since surveying these companies, including through two letters to the company’s CEO in 2015 urging them to only use beef raised without medically unnecessary antibiotics. Today’s letter further builds on that conversation.
More than two million Americans acquire an antibiotic-resistant infection every year, and at least 23,000 die from those infections – more than HIV/AIDS. The average hospitalization period is four days, creating $20-35 billion in excess direct health care costs each year in the U.S. Globally, 700,000 die each year and the annual cost is estimated to be as high as $1.2 trillion.
Currently, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are sold for agricultural use. Most often, these antibiotics are distributed at sub-therapeutic levels to healthy animals as a way to compensate for crowded and unsanitary living conditions or to promote growth. Any effort to stop the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria must address the overuse of antibiotics in food-animals.
Slaughter is the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by ending the use of these drugs in healthy food-producing animals, while allowing their use for treatment of sick animals. This bill includes a mandatory restriction on unnecessary non-therapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics in healthy animals, which the World Health Organization recently recommended. Slaughter has also authored the Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act to require the FDA to collect and report real-world, on-the-farm usage data including the indication, dose, duration of use, and number of animals treated from large livestock producers.
A copy of Slaughter’s letter is included below:
January 10, 2017
President and Chief Executive Officer
2111 McDonald's Dr.
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Dear Mr. Easterbrook:
Antibiotic resistance is a global crisis that threatens public health in every corner of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that resistance threatens modern medicine and that without urgent action we are heading for a post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor surgeries can once again be dangerous enough to kill.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that resistant infections already kill at least 23,000 and sicken two million Americans every year. World-wide, the current toll of hundreds of thousands of deaths per year could increase to 10 million, more than all cancers combined, by 2050 and result in a cumulative loss of more than $100 trillion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Antibiotic use in animal agriculture has been known to be a serious part of the problem since the 1950’s. Despite this, a full eighty percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals, where the majority are routinely given to healthy animals for “disease prevention” to compensate for poor husbandry or hygiene. Unfortunately, these dangerous and unsustainable practices, along with routine growth promotion, are the global norm.
In November, the WHO called on the food industry to “stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals”. This recommendation was part of a call for “strong, sustained action across all sectors” that “is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe."
McDonald’s is a world-wide brand and one of the largest purchasers of beef, pork, and chicken globally. With this market power comes a significant responsibility for helping address this crisis by ending the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. While it has made some progress, McDonald’s must do more to help protect consumers and combat this global public health crisis. As you may know, I have engaged with McDonald’s and others bearing responsibility for antibiotic practices on a number of occasions.
McDonald’s 2015 announcement that it would commit to sourcing only chicken raised without medically important antibiotics for its U.S. restaurants was a welcome step forward and is widely seen as a tipping point within the chicken industry. In addition to my personal note on March 16, 2015 thanking McDonald’s for this announcement, I would like to congratulate McDonald’s for reaching that commitment a year early in 2016.
However, while McDonald’s achievement is notable, it only covers one species in one market. As acknowledged by corporate policy, beginning with McDonald’s 2003 global policy on Antibiotic use in Food Animals, resistance is a world-wide, multi-species problem. The solution must be global as well, especially in light of numerous concerns about the impact of growing demand for meat products in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
For instance, although McDonald’s August 23, 2017 Statement on Antibiotic Use recognizes the need to address antibiotic use in broiler chickens in “markets around the world” the policy, as stated, is limited only to Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (“HPCIA”), instead of all medically important antibiotics as per U.S. policy, and seemingly fails to include all countries in which McDonald’s operates.
Similarly, details on other species, such as beef and pork, remain to be seen. This is despite previous announcements regarding the sourcing of sustainably produced beef. I previously detailed my concerns regarding McDonald’s antibiotic stewardship efforts in relation to the Principles and Criteria for Global Sustainable Beef developed by the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef (GRSB) in a January 22, 2015 letter to your predecessor.
The letter expressed my concerns that GRSB Principles and Criteria for Global Sustainable Beef left open the so-called “disease prevention loophole”. My concern was not alone - the standards were condemned as “fundamentally flawed” by 23 leading NGO’s at the time. Ending the unnecessary routine uses of antibiotics in healthy animals must be a fundamental piece of sustainable production practices.
Clearly, more work is needed to ensure the responsible use of all medically important antibiotics, in all species in McDonald’s supply chain, in all countries in which McDonald’s operates. I urge McDonald’s to adhere to the criteria and goals laid out in the recently released Global Vision for Antibiotic Stewardship in Food Animals (“VAS”), especially ending routine preventative uses and utilizing practices that reduce or eliminate the need for the use of antibiotics.
As you are well aware, consumers are increasingly knowledgeable about how the food they purchase is produced. Consumers will continue to demand responsibly raised products, including meat produced without the unnecessary routine use of antibiotics in healthy animals, and will continue to vote with their wallet. Wendy’s recently moved first by announcing a preference for suppliers who raise beef with reduced use of Tylosin. While this is a start, their policy does not go nearly far enough and I urge McDonald’s to do better when finalizing its own plans.
Taking decisive actions “resulting in a reduction of antibiotics in Food Animals” by ending the use of antibiotics on healthy animals in its global supply chain will help McDonald’s meet stated ambitions of “Good Food, Good People, Good Neighbor.” I look forward to further details regarding specific plans for each species of Food Animal, clear implementation timelines, and third party verification criteria.
Louise M. Slaughter
Member of Congress