Restaurants & Retailers Clean Up Supply Chains, Remove Antibiotics and Harmful Chemicals

cage-free eggs branex/Adobe Stock

McDonald’s has officially removed chickens raised with antibiotics from its U.S. supply chain, joining a list of restaurants, food companies and retailers that have banned specific drugs or other potentially harmful ingredients in their products.

McDonald’s reached its milestone ahead of schedule, too. The fast food chain originally aimed to rid its supply chain of antibiotics by March 2017. The ban is only for antibiotics that are “important to human medicine,” the company said. Farmers in McDonald’s supply chain may still use ionophores, what the company said was “a class of antibiotics that are not prescribed to people, to help keep chickens healthy.”

The news comes shortly after major retailer Wal-Mart announced it would direct suppliers to phase out eight chemicals used mainly in household and beauty products that could pose a harm to human health. Wal-Mart worked with the Environmental Defense Fund to create the list of banned chemicals, which includes parabens, formaldehyde and triclosan, a chemical used in antibacterial soap and some toothpastes but is prohibited in the European Union and in some states like Minnesota and Michigan.

Other companies have taken similar steps to rid supply chains of potentially harmful additives or ingredients, as consumer demand for cleaner and more natural products grows. Campbell’s, for example, said it would ban antibiotics in its chicken supply chain. Grocery store chain Aldi also recently announced it would ban the insecticide neonicotinoid and other pesticides. And, as it does with its popular burrito chain, Chipotle’s new burger chain called Tasty Made soon to open will serve beef raised without antibiotics or hormones.

Consumer Demands

A recent survey showed consumers want more foods without preservatives, hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified ingredients, and they are willing to pay more for such products. For instance, 74% of consumers surveyed said they would pay a higher price for antibiotic-free food and beverages. Similarly, 76% of consumers would pay more for preservative-free food and beverages and 75% said they would pay more for hormone-free products.

Health Threats

Removing antibiotics from food supply chains may be more than a good business move. While it’s important for companies to respond to changing consumer demands, health officials also are warning against the use of antibiotics in food supply chains. More people in the United States are becoming resistant to antibiotics. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said each year at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. It also called antibiotic resistanceone of our most serious health threats.”

Most Fast Food Companies Don’t Have Antibiotic Sourcing Policies, Practices

Last fall, a report ranking 25 fast food companies based on their antibiotics policing and sourcing practices showed the majority of the chains do not have a policy in place to limit the use of antibiotics in their supply chains.

Chipotle and Panera Bread were found to be the only two restaurants that offered meat options produced without the routine use of antibiotics, at the time the analysis was complete. Both these companies received a grade of A in the report for its meat sourcing policies and practices.

When the report was released, McDonald’s received a “C” — a grade that may improve with the fast food company’s recent announcement regarding eliminating antibiotics from its supply chain. Twenty companies received “F” grades. These companies included Starbucks, IHOP, KFC and Arby’s.

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