McDonald’s says it plans to start using chicken raised without antibiotics important to human health and milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.
The company says the chicken change will take place within the next two years. It says suppliers will still be able to use a type of antibiotic called ionophores that keep chickens healthy and aren’t used in humans. The milk change will take place later this year.
Many cattle, hog and poultry producers give their livestock antibiotics to make them grow faster and ensure they are healthy. The practise has become a public health issue, with officials saying it can lead to germs becoming resistant to drugs so that they’re no longer effective in treating a particular illness in humans.
Chipotle and Panera already say they serve chicken raised without antibiotics, but the announcement by McDonald’s is notable because of its size; the company has more than 14,000 US locations. Chipotle has nearly 1,800 locations, while Panera has almost 1,900 locations.
“This really does move the ball quite a bit,” said Gail Hansen, a senior officer with the antibiotic resistance project with The Pew Charitable Trusts. Hansen noted that ionophores, the antibiotics that will be allowed by McDonald’s, are not considered medically important for humans and are not even considered antibiotics in Europe.
The announcement comes as McDonald’s Corp. struggles to transform its image amid intensifying competition from smaller rivals positioning themselves as more wholesome alternatives. The company has long battled negative perceptions about its food, but that has become a bigger vulnerability as more people shift toward options they feel are made with ingredients that are higher quality or meet standards on social responsibility.