Most top restaurant chains in the United States have failed to adopt policies to stop the overuse of antibiotics by their beef suppliers, according to the sixth annual Chain Reaction scorecard released by North Carolina Public Interest Research Group and other major consumer, public health and environmental organizations. One notable exception is Wendy’s, which announced a new policy this spring to end all routine use of medically important antibiotics in the company’s beef supplies by 2030.
While Wendy’s managed to boost its grade level, most companies surveyed reported no progress in 2020 on their antibiotics commitments. Most notably, McDonald’s, the world’s largest beef buyer, failed to meet its own internal deadline to set antibiotic reduction targets by the end of 2020.
A world where antibiotics no longer work would be unrecognizable. Common infections would be deadly, and routine surgeries and even cuts and scrapes could be incredibly dangerous. That’s why it’s profoundly disappointing that McDonald’s, the world’s largest beef purchaser, failed to fulfill its 2018 pledge to set targets for reducing antibiotic use in its beef supply.
“As the last year has clearly shown, prompt, effective action can greatly reduce the impact of a public health threat and inaction can make things much worse. Antibiotic resistance is one of these threats.” said Steven Roach, lead author and Safe and Healthy Food Program director at Food Animal Concerns Trust. “We applaud Wendy’s commitment on antibiotic use in beef and urge the company to implement its pledge as quickly as possible.We also need much broader action from the beef and restaurant sectors if we want to stop the urgent public health crisis of antibiotic resistance.”
The Chain Reaction Report was produced by Food Animal Concerns Trust, the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Reports, Natural Resources Defense Council and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
The report grades the top 20 fast food and casual sit-down restaurant chains nationwide on the antibiotic use policies and practices behind the beef served in their restaurants.
Wendy’s, the third largest burger chain in the country, moved up to a “C” grade from last year’s “D” for its recent commitment to prohibit the routine use of medically important antibiotics in its beef supplies by the end of 2030. The restaurant chain is also pledging to track and report on the use of antibiotics in its beef supply by 2024.
Twelve chains earned “F” grades for taking no public action to reduce antibiotic overuse in their beef supplies: Starbucks, Burger King, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Sonic, Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Little Caesars, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Jack in the Box and Panda Express.
Subway and McDonald’s earned “C” grades for adopting responsible antibiotic use policies but neither has begun implementing them. Subway reported no progress on its goal to implement responsible antibiotic use by 2025, and as noted above, McDonald’s failed to honor its commitment to set antibiotic reduction targets in its beef supply by the end of 2020.
Taco Bell earned a “D” grade again for maintaining its commitment to reduce medically important antibiotic use in its beef supplies by 25 percent by 2025 but also did not report taking any steps to meet this commitment in 2020.
Applebee’s and IHOP each moved from an “F” to a “D” grade for serving a limited amount of responsibly raised beef at their restaurants.
Top performers were once again Chipotle and Panera. Both companies earned “A” grades for the sixth year in a row.
The overuse of antibiotics is the primary driver for the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. Like COVID-19, antibiotic resistance is an urgent public health crisis across the globe. Infectious disease experts have warned about bacterial resistance to antibiotic medicines for decades. Resistance in infections leads to more severe illness, more and longer hospital stays, higher medical costs, and increased mortality.
In the U.S., almost two-thirds of medically important antibiotics are sold for food animal use and this use contributes significantly to the resistance problem. Recently published estimates indicate that between 35,000 and 162,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections.
Restaurant chains as well as other sectors of the food industry should act to reduce antibiotic overuse in order to limit the devastating impacts of the spread of antibiotic resistance.
Food Animal Concerns Trust expands safe and humanely raised food options by supporting humane farmers and advocating against antibiotic overuse and harmful drugs in farm animals. The Humane Farming Program invests in family farmers seeking to raise their animals humanely by providing them with grants, scholarships and webinars. The Food Safety Program advocates for stronger corporate and federal policies that eliminate the overuse of antibiotics and veterinary drugs known to be harmful to consumers. Together they expand safe and humane practices on farms across the country.
Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment.
Consumer Reports is a nonprofit membership organization that works side-by-side with consumers to create a fairer, safer and healthier world. For more than 80 years, CR has provided evidence-based product testing and ratings, rigorous research, investigative journalism, public education and steadfast policy action on behalf of consumers’ interests. Unconstrained by advertising or other commercial influences, CR has exposed landmark public health and safety issues and strives to be a catalyst for pro-consumer changes in the marketplace.
The Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health was created to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics by engaging in research, advocacy, and science-based policy. ARAC is focused on finding out-of-the box solutions to antibiotic resistance, one of the greatest public health threats of our time.
U.S. PIRG Education Fund is an independent, nonpartisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, PIRG serves as a counterweight to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.
Katie Craig is director of the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group.