McDonald's is curbing the use of antibiotics in its meat supply in an effort to curb the spread of drug-resistant superbugs

McDonald's released guidelines on Tuesday for suppliers of beef in its top 10 sourcing countries to curb the use of antibiotics as the fast-food giant joins a broad effort to battle dangerous superbugs.

The fast food chain is the largest in the world and is one of the biggest buyers of beef.

Its new guidelines require that all of its suppliers begin phasing out antibiotics from their animals.

Over-prescription of antibiotics as well as our exposure to the drugs via their widespread use in livestock have fueled human antibiotic resistance which the World Health Organization (WHO) considers highest-priority threat to human health.

It also urged suppliers to adopt a tiered approach to the use of antibiotics, encouraging them them to only use the antibiotics considered most critical by the WHO only as the last resort.

In 2016, 18.4 million pounds of antibiotics were sold to animal agriculture businesses.

That year actually marked the first since 2009 in which there was a decline in the use of antibiotics in livestock.

Currently antibiotics are used not only to treat illness in animals but as a preventative measure as well.

Antibiotic resistance is thought to cause at least 23,000 deaths a year (though recent recalculations suggest it may be as many as 153,000 a year) in the US.

Eating meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics means exposing our systems and bacteria to the drugs.

As bacteria are exposed to antibiotics they 'learn' the drugs and mutate to be resistant to them. These antibiotic resistant strains of the bacteria then multiply, and our best weapon against them is rendered useless.

The WHO has gone after food companies for their antibiotic use, including pressing Foster Farms, the biggest producer of chicken on the West Coast of the US and Subway restaurants to give up the drugs.

Now, McDonald's is cooperating, and the move to curb the use of antibiotics in beef could push other restaurant chains to follow suit.

Restaurant chains including Wendy's reduced the use of antibiotics in their chicken supply after McDonald's introduced similar policies last year.

McDonald's said on Tuesday it would work with producers in Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland, UK, Canada, Brazil and the United States to establish pilot tests in order to begin the implementation of this new policy.

The company said it would establish market-specific reduction targets based on the test findings by the end of 2020.

12 December 2018

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