Most Big Restaurant Chains Get An F On Stopping The Use Of Antibiotics In Their Food

Some fast food restaurants (Chipotle, Panera) are working hard to remove antibiotics from their supply chains. Many others are not.

Most Big Restaurant Chains Get An F On Stopping The Use Of Antibiotics In Their Food
[Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images]

The routine, and often unnecessary, use of antibiotics in meat production contributes to drug resistance that endangers human health. Up to 70% of drugs that humans need to fight infections are used on animals that aren’t sick. Essentially, they’re proactive measures designed to fatten up livestock and improve bottom lines.


The medical community has been calling for the end to such wastefulness. But so far only some food companies are listening. Chipotle, Panera, and even McDonald’s are phasing out gratuitous antibiotic use in their supply chains. But others such as KFC, Olive Garden, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chili’s, Sonic, Denny’s, Domino’s, Starbucks, Applebee’s, Jack in the Box, and Arby’s are yet to make a start, a new report shows.

The report from several nonprofits scores the 25 largest food restaurant chains on both their policies and their actions. It finds that some companies are moving strongly away from antibiotics. For example, in the last year McDonald’s has begun to act on its commitment to phase out poultry raised with “antibiotics that are important to human medicine.” Subway is another big mover, going from an F in last year’s report to a B in 2016. Dunkin’ Donuts, however, went in the other direction, falling from a C last year to an F this year. The report says it hasn’t followed through on its previous policy and may actually have weakened it in the last year.

Panera, Chipotle, Subway, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s all get passing grades (C or higher). Sixteen others get F grades. The nonprofits responsible for the rankings are the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, Consumers Union, and Center for Food Safety.

While praising the efforts of McDonald’s and others on chicken, the report finds much less action on pork and beef. Of the 25 included, only Panera, Chipotle, and Subway have time-bound (as opposed to open-ended) commitments to phasing out antibiotics in meat other than poultry.

Up to 96% of the antibiotics sold for animal use are added to feed and water, instead of given to sick animals, indicating how routine the practice has become. Scientists blame the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs,” on antibiotics that leach from farms to surrounding air, water, soil, and workers. About 2 million Americans get antibiotic-resistant infections, and up to 23,000 die as a result of them each year.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.