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A report on dangerous antibiotic use in meat supplies praises current efforts while asking for much more.

Charlie Heller
September 27, 2017

Panera and Chipotle topped an industry report card on antibiotic use in meat yesterday thanks to the chains' comprehensive no antibiotics programs. The two, which both recently extended those policies to cover pork and beef, received the only "A" grades from the report on the top 25 fast food and casual restaurant companies.

Authored by six public interest groups under the umbrella of the National Resource Defense Council, the report hopes to encourage further progress on a critical public health issue. "Rather than being used only when animals are sick," a post announcing the report card says, "antibiotics are often used to accelerate animal growth and to prevent diseases stemming from poor diets and crowded, stressful, and dirty conditions," which can cause bacteria develop resistance, and potentially spread to humans in the form of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Fortunately, there is at least some progress. The report found that fourteen of the top 25 companies have at least adopted policies to get rid of antibiotics "that are important to human health" from meat supplies. KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and Jack in the Box all adopted new policies in the last year, with KFC winning "most improved" after moving from an F to B-minus.

Which makes sense, given the trends: antibiotic reduction has made far more progress in poultry supplies than in beef or pork. "When it comes to chicken nuggets, we’ve seen incredible change in a few short years," says NRDC food policy advocate and report coauthor Lena Brook, "but burgers and bacon are another story.”

Since the use of antibiotics is a major factor behind the rise of drug-resistant infections that sicken over 2 million people and kill at least 23,000 every year, the current efforts often pushed for by both consumers and company shareholders are welcome. But, the report's authors emphasize, "the market alone will not solve the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance."

Rather, they say, the United States Food and Drug Administration must take more decisive regulatory action to protect Americans' health. Currently, the FDA does have a program for phasing out antibiotics, but compliance is voluntary. Given the public health crisis the report card is grading on though, the agency might want to consider making the homework mandatory.