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Food Safety and Processing Perspective

Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.
Broilers & Layers / Egg Production

McDonald’s move on poultry antibiotic use a good one

March 4, 2015

McDonald's, the world’s largest quick-service restaurant chain, recently announced that within two years it will only source chicken and egg products in the U.S. from birds that have not been given any antibiotics that are important to human medicine. This announcement differs significantly from the one issued by rival restaurant chain Chick-fil-A in 2014, which promised to only purchase chicken products from birds that have never been given antibiotics at all. This distinction between no antibiotics ever and no medically important antibiotics is really significant.

McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are attempting to address antibiotic resistance concerns of some consumers by making these purchasing decisions, and I am really interested to see how American consumers respond. McDonald’s approach to antibiotic usage in poultry will leave ionophore coccidiostats -- classified as antibiotics in the U.S. -- available for use by poultry veterinarians because they are not used in human medicine. McDonald’s approach will allow poultry producers, under the direction of a veterinarian, to treat sick flocks without forcing these flocks to be marketed through other channels. This allows for the humane treatment of the birds and eliminates a potential economic incentive for poultry producers to not treat sick flocks so they can stay in the raised-without-antibiotics category.

WATT and DuPont hosted a panel discussion on raised-without-antibiotics chicken products at the International Production and Processing Expo in Atlanta in January 2015. Richard Kottmeyer, Strategic, a futurist specializing in evaluating consumer intentions and attitudes based on Internet data, was a panelist. Kottmeyer sees raised-without-antibiotics chicken in the U.S. quickly growing to be one-third of the total market. I asked Kottmeyer if it was all or nothing for consumers when it came to antibiotic usage in poultry. Would dramatic reduction of antibiotic use, not elimination, be enough? He said that if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association came out in favor of something like removal of all antibiotics used in human medicine from poultry production that this might resonate with consumers. He went on to say that, because consumers are much more interested in the health and welfare of their own families, that arguments about the need to use antibiotics to keep poultry healthy aren’t convincing.

Based on Kottmeyer’s answer, I’ll be looking for comments from the medical community about McDonald’s announcement. I hope they will be in favor of it, and that they won’t be asking for more.

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