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A group of nuns challenges McDonald’s over antibiotics in meat

A McDonald's in San Francisco.A McDonald's in San Francisco.
A McDonald's in San Francisco.Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

When McDonald’s announced in March that it would phase out the use of certain problematic antibiotics in chicken, many applauded the move. But some critics say the move isn’t big enough, and they want the fast food chain — and all companies — to stop using antibiotics in all meat when those drugs are also prescribed to humans.

Earlier this week, the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters in Boerne, Texas — which owns McDonald’s stock — is demanding just that. The group has put forth a shareholder proposal asking McDonald’s to require all of its meat suppliers to stop injecting animals with the drugs to promote growth or prevent disease. The proposal wouldn’t apply to antibiotics used on sick animals.

When McDonald’s announced its plans for chicken in March, “we roundly applauded as an important step forward in sustainable meat production and an acknowledgement that it understands the damage overexposure to antibiotics has on public health,” said the congregation’s Sr. Susan Mika in a statement. “But we question why this important commitment isn’t also being applied to the beef and pork it sources, as hamburgers are a mainstay of McDonald’s business. This double-standard makes no sense to us; what’s good for the goose, ought to be good for the gander, or in this case, the whole farmyard.”

McDonald’s declined to comment, saying it hadn’t yet reviewed the proposal.

Scientists including those at the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have tied the use of antibiotics in livestock to resistance to the drugs among humans. About 2 million people are sickened each year in the United States, and 23,000 die as a result of antibiotic resistance, according to the CDC.

The congregation belongs to the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which is managing a campaign among its members, and promises more shareholder actions to come.

On Wednesday, a group of consumer-watchdog organizations issued a “scorecard” rating big restaurant chains on their use of antibiotics. McDonald’s earned only a “C,” while two fast-casual chains, Chipotle and Panera, were the only ones to earn an “A.” Chick fil A, the country’s largest buyer of chicken, earned a “B.” Among the groups that assembled the scorecard were the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Consumers Union, and Friends of the Earth. Most of the 25 chains listed earned an “F.”

Under new CEO Steve Easterbrook, the struggling McDonald’s has been working to change its image. Last week, the company announced that it would begin buying eggs only from “cage free” chicken raisers.