Grades on Antibiotics: More Top Restaurants Receive Passing Grades

The following was written by Matthew Wellington, the Antibiotics Program Director of U.S. PIRG (United States Public Interest Research Group),  on September 27, 2017. It is also available in the original post HERE.


The school year is well underway, and teachers everywhere are cranking out lesson plans and grading papers. The most effective teachers think of grades not just as an accountability mechanism, but as a challenge to improve. And successful scholars rise to the challenge.

Today U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Consumers Union, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, and Center for Food Safety released the third annual Chain Reaction report. The report grades the top 25 restaurant chains in the U.S. on their antibiotics policies for the meat they buy.

The results are in. More than half of the top 25 restaurant chains (14 to be exact) in the U.S. have taken some action to restrict the routine use of antibiotics in their meat supply chains, up from 9 just one year ago. Combined, these fourteen restaurants account for a whopping two-thirds of all fast food industry revenue.

That’s cause for celebration, albeit a tempered one because despite this progress, there’s still more to do to keep antibiotics effective. For instance, many of the commitments from restaurants pertain only to eliminating routine antibiotic use for the chicken they buy, while only 3 of out the top 25 chains have meaningful antibiotics policies for all of the meat they serve (Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Subway).

Close to half of U.S. chicken is raised by suppliers that follow responsible antibiotics practices or that have pledged to do so in the near future. However, the beef and pork sectors lag woefully behind. A major meat buyer needs to step up to the plate and commit to only source beef and pork raised without routine antibiotic use. As one of the largest buyers of beef and pork in the world, McDonald’s fits the bill.

Whether it’s an A, a C, or an F, the grades that the restaurant chains received have real world implications. The overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms is fueling the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, a health threat that kills at least 23,000 Americans a year and sickens millions more. Imagine going to the doctor with an infection, and being told that there is no effective treatment. That’s the reality for thousands of people and could be for millions if we don’t act now to cut unnecessary antibiotic use across the board.

Any misuse of antibiotics in any setting gives the bugs opportunities to resist the drugs. But when you consider that 70% of the medically-important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are intended for use on food animals, and that in many cases the drugs are given to animals that aren’t even sick, the spotlight for change turns on the meat industry.

Major restaurant chains can use their buying power and urge suppliers to change their production practices, including ditching the routine use of antibiotics. And as reflected in the newest Chain Reaction scorecard, many chains are putting that power to good use.

Here are some of the highlights:

Panera Bread and Chipotle continue to lead the pack as the only two companies to receive A’s for currently restricting routine antibiotic use throughout their entire meat supply chains.

Five restaurants acted on antibiotics in the last year — KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, Jack in the Box, and Dunkin Donuts — by committing to various policies to phase unnecessary antibiotics use out of their chicken supplies (Starbucks includes chicken and turkey).

Last year U.S. PIRG Education Fund and our coalition partners demonstrated a steady drumbeat of consumer support for KFC, the fried chicken giant, to stop the overuse of antibiotics in its meat supply chain. In April 2017, KFC announced a strong policy to no longer purchase chicken raised with medically important antibiotics by the end of 2018 for U.S. locations. As such, KFC earned most improved in this year’s scorecard, going from an F in last year’s report to a B-.

So whether it’s Subway, with its B+, or Olive Garden, with its third consecutive F, each restaurant chain featured in this year’s scorecard should treat their grade as a challenge to improve. If they rise to that challenge, we’ll have a real shot at preserving the efficacy of antibiotics for future generations.