In 2015, the groups now known as the Antibiotics Off the Menu coalition launched a concerted effort to stop the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry through corporate actions.
At that time, there was a lack of progress on effective federal policy despite years of effort. While this lack of meaningful federal action continues today, rising consumer concern about antibiotic resistance, and interest from restaurant industry leaders like Panera, Chipotle and Chick-fil-A, in doing their part to reduce unnecessary antibiotics use set off a wave of change. Today, more than half of chicken in the United States is produced under an antibiotics stewardship program.
The positive effects of these corporate actions are rippling throughout the livestock industry. The latest Food and Drug Administration data show that in 2017, overall antibiotics sales to the meat industry saw a big drop, though two-third of all U.S. medically important antibiotic sales still go to livestock.
Antibiotics Off the Menu is now urging the top six restaurants chains in the U.S. to only buy meat raised without routine antibiotic use. For more on our current and past campaigns, see below.
In spring 2019, we launched a new campaign calling on Wendy’s, the third largest burger chain in the U.S., to take definitive action on antibiotic use in its beef supplies. So far, the company has only taken baby steps, with reductions in one drug in a small portion of its overall beef supplies.
Wendy’s seems to want its customers to think it is taking this issue seriously. The best way to do that is to make a genuine commitment to take concrete action. In other words, to set a firm timeline for across the board reductions of medically important antibiotics across all of its vast beef supply chain.
With its 2015 commitment to end the use of medically important drugs in its chicken supplies, McDonald’s helped set off a ripple effect in that industry. Then, in December 2018, the company announced a new antibiotic use reduction policy for most of its global beef supplies, which calls for an end to routine prevention use of medically important drugs. The policy requires beef suppliers in 10 key global markets to comply with this new approach starting in 2021 (the company is slated to publicize reduction targets by the end of 2020).
Several members of the Antibiotics Off the Menu Coalition were engaged stakeholders in the development of this policy. Other groups publicly called on the company for over a year to set a strong policy for beef through various campaign activities.
In the summer of 2015, we called on Subway, at the time the second largest restaurant chain in the U.S., to act on antibiotics. Given its size and health-focused marketing, the “Eat Fresh” brand was in a unique position to shift the meat industry toward responsible use. After our groups reached millions of consumers online, in person, and in the media with the message that Subway could make a difference, the company committed to no longer source any meat raised with antibiotics by 2025.
Subway now serves only chicken raised without antibiotics, and is in the process of honoring its commitment on turkey. They have not yet made progress with pork and beef.
Our campaign calling on KFC to no longer source chicken raised with routine antibiotics created the industry tipping point. Groups addressed KFC leadership at the Yum! Brands annual shareholder meeting, placed strategic media stories in KFC’s hometown paper and national outlets, and delivered hundreds of thousands of citizen actions into KFC’s headquarters. In April 2017, KFC U.S. announced that the company would only buy chicken raised without medically important antibiotics by the end of 2018.
In January 2019, as promised, KFC formally announced that it fulfilled its chicken pledge.