US hamburger chain Wendy’s has announced plans to cut the use of antibiotics important to human medicine from its from its beef supply, in response to concerns about resistance to the drugs in humans.
Wendy’s said starting from 2018, the company would buy about 15% of its beef from producers that have each pledged to reduce their use of tylosin by 20% —the one medically important antibiotic they routinely feed to cattle.
It said there was “a growing public health concern about antibiotic resistance” and the company believed it “could help by reducing or eliminating antibiotic use in our food supply chain”.
The company, which describes itself as the world’s third-largest quick-service hamburger chain, said it also plans to increase the amount of beef it purchases from these producers and others that raise cattle in similar ways.
It added that it had finished removing antibiotics important to human medicine from its chicken supply after pledging to do so last year.
Matt Wellington, antibiotics programme director for advocacy group USPIRG, said while the move from Wendy’s was welcome, it urged the food company to move faster.
“Wendy’s is an iconic restaurant and major meat buyer. We applaud the company for fulfilling its commitment to eliminate medically important antibiotics from its chicken supply and we welcome these steps away from routine antibiotic use in beef production,” he said.
“We urge the company to continue making progress toward eliminating routine antibiotic use from its entire meat supply and to come out with a concrete timeline for achieving that goal.”
Public health experts for years have warned that the regular use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent illness in healthy farm animals contributes to the development and spread of drug-resistant superbugs that can infect people.
Last month, the World Health Organisation recommended that meat producers end such practices.
In the US, the sale and distribution of antibiotics approved for use in food-producing animals fell by 10% from 2015-16, the first decline since the Food and Drug Administration started tracking the data in 2009.
The drop came as restaurants such as McDonald’s and meat suppliers including Tyson Foods backed away from using antibiotics in US chicken supplies.
However, McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue, says on its website it prefers beef raised with a “responsible use of antibiotics”.
Wellington said Wendy’s plan is more concrete.
“By beginning to move away from routine antibiotic use in its meat supply chain beyond chicken, Wendy’s is setting an important example that others in the industry need to follow,” he said.
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