Fast-food chains slammed for antibiotics in meat

They may come in different shapes and flavours, but you know precisely what you’ll get from most fast-food meals in America: a not-so-healthy serving of antibiotics.

Cow made up of colourful pills on black background

In a new report from food and health groups, the country’s top 25 fast-food chains have been “graded” on their approach to antibiotics in meat – and most have been found wanting.

Chain Reaction examines the policy and practice of companies such as McDonald’s, KFC and Subway towards the meat they serve their customers stateside.

The report scores them on points including whether they serve antibiotic-free meat and whether they have plans to use less meat from livestock routinely administered antibiotics.

Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Gril were the only companies to get an “A”, with Chick-fil-A awarded a “B” and Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s a “C”.

The other 20 companies – including Subway, Wendy’s, Burger King, Denny’s, Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC – were awarded an “F”. Subway has since confirmed that it is beginning to transition to serving only meat from animals that have never received antibiotics across all of its US restaurants early next year (update 20 October).

As much as 80 per cent of the antibiotics used in the US go towards keeping animals alive in overcrowded factory farms, where conditions are so inimical to health they couldn’t otherwise survive.

But their overuse is having a knock-on effect for humans. The antibiotics being pumped into America’s livestock and dairy industries is fuelling the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. Two million Americans a year are infected, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23,000 of whom die.

The World Health Organization warned in a 2014 report that an era in which drugs would no longer be able to protect us from even the most common infections was “far from being an apocalyptic fantasy [but] instead a very real possibility for the 21st century”.

Given this, the fast-food counter is fast becoming the front line in the battle to curb antibiotic resistance.

As the report says: “Top US restaurant chains have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help tackle the antibiotic resistance crisis by using their considerable purchasing power to shift production towards meat and poultry raised without the routine use of antibiotics.”

While Chain Reaction holds out some hope that things are changing, there remains one sure-fire way to ensure your fast food is antibiotic-free: ask for the meat free option.

Read the Chain Reaction report