McDonald’s (MCD) on Wednesday said that it would begin curbing the use of important human antibiotics in its global chicken supply in 2018, as the fast-food giant joins a broad effort to battle dangerous superbugs.
McDonald’s is requiring suppliers of its broiler chickens to begin phasing out the use of antibiotics defined by the World Health Organization as “highest priority critically important antimicrobials” (HPCIA) to human medicine.
Public health and consumer groups applauded the move, which does not go as far as the company’s policy for the United States, where already for a year suppliers have provided the chain with chickens raised without antibiotics deemed important to human health.
In January 2018, HPCIAs will be gone from McDonald’s chickens in Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe. Only in Europe the company will make an exception for the antibiotic Colistin.
By the end of 2019, suppliers in Australia and Russia will stop using those antibiotics and European suppliers plan to remove Colistin.
Suppliers in all other markets will comply by January 2027.
“Our goal is to have this policy implemented before this date,” McDonald’s said in a statement.
More than 70% of medically important antibiotics in the United States are sold for livestock use. Scientists have warned that the routine use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent illness in healthy farms animals contributes to the rise of dangerous, antibiotic-resistant superbug infections, which kill at least 23,000 Americans each year and pose a significant threat to global health.
“McDonald’s plan is a bold vision that will help preserve the effectiveness of these critical medications to fight infections and keep us healthy,” Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, said in a statement.
“If fully implemented, it could be a total game changer that could transform the marketplace given the company’s massive buying power,” Halloran said.