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Large chain restaurants earn low marks for antibiotic use in meat

Only two of the 25 restaurants included in the research were graded "A" for serving meat that has not been treated with antibiotics.

By Stephen Feller
Consumer groups say the top restaurant chains in the United States are not doing enough to end the use of meat treated unnecessarily with antibiotics -- causing health issues for humans and reducing the efficacy of the drugs to treat disease. Photo by Budimir Jevtic/Shutterstock
Consumer groups say the top restaurant chains in the United States are not doing enough to end the use of meat treated unnecessarily with antibiotics -- causing health issues for humans and reducing the efficacy of the drugs to treat disease. Photo by Budimir Jevtic/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Most meat served at the top chain restaurants in the United States comes from animals that have been treated with antibiotics, according to a report co-authored by several consumer and food advocacy groups.

Nearly all of the restaurants included in the report received failing grades except for two, Chipotle and Panera Bread. Several others said they were in the process of eliminating the use of meat treated with antibiotics though progress was not necessarily obvious and some did not have timelines for the planned change.

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Nearly 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are sold to livestock producers and used to prevent disease, which often creates disease immunity to the drugs and, according to researchers, is helping to decrease the efficacy of the drugs in humans.

"From bacon cheeseburgers to chicken nuggets, most meat served by America's chain restaurants comes from animals raised in industrial-scale facilities, where they are routinely fed antibiotics to prevent disease that is easily spread in crowded, unsanitary, stressful conditions," said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth, in a press release. "It's time for the U.S. restaurant industry to take leadership and address the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance by working with their meat and poultry suppliers to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics and improve overall conditions in U.S. meat production."

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The report, published online by Friends of the Earth, was compiled by surveying companies, as well as reviewed their own public statements and food information made available to customers. In addition to FOE, information in the report was gathered by Natural Resources Defense Council, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Keep Antibiotics Working, and Center for Food Safety, as well as Consumers Union, the non-profit division of Consumer Reports.

Researchers focused on the top 25 chain restaurants in the United States, scoring them on: quality of meat policy; how many types of meat the policy applies to; availability of meat not treated with antibiotics; third-party audits of the policies; whether the policy is available online; and whether the companies responded to survey requests.

The only two restaurants to qualify for an "A" grade were Chipotle and Panera Bread, based on their food offerings, the ease with which their policies can be found, and allowing third-party groups to verify what they do. Chick-fil-A received a "B" grade based on its goal to phase out antibiotic-laden chicken by 2019, but it lost points because only 20 percent of their meat meets that requirement right now.

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McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts each earned a "C" because they have announced plans to switch to antibiotic-free meat but have not made visible strides to do so, nor have the announced exactly what their plans are.

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The other 14 restaurants, including Subway, Starbucks, Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse, along with fast-food chains, all received grades of "F," based on their lack of intention to move to antibiotic-free meats, not having a policy regarding meat or not making it easily available, and not responding to survey requests.

In a letter sent to the CEOs of all 25 companies, signed by 109 consumer organizations, the groups call on the companies themselves to do right by their customers, noting that in 2012 Consumer Reports reported that 82 percent of consumers would buy antibiotic-free meat if it were available.

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"While we will continue to push lawmakers and regulatory agencies to adopt stronger policies, we believe that your industry can use its significant buying power to help stem this public health crisis by developing strong policies to reduce or eliminate antibiotic use in your meat and poultry supply chains," they wrote in the letter.

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