KFC has announced its intention to remove all chicken raised with medically important antibiotics from its American supply chains by the end of 2018. As one of the largest buyers of chicken in the United States and the second largest U.S. chicken chain by sales after Chick-fil-A, KFC’s announcement may have lasting effects on the chicken industry on the whole in the United States.
“The commitment from KFC to do their part to reduce antibiotic use in animals is an important step in helping keep the drugs available that we need to treat serious infections in people,” said Dr. Nicholas Bennett, Co-Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in a press release. “As a society, we need more companies and restaurants to follow this lead.”
The announcement was made by Yum! Brands, KFC’s parent company, after a letter to this effect signed by more than eighty consumer, health, and environmental organizations was delivered to the company in January of 2016.
“We recognize that it’s a growing public health concern,” KFC U.S. President Kevin Hochman told Reuters on Thursday. “This is something that’s important to many of our customers and it’s something we need to do to show relevance and modernity within our brand.”
KFC joins other industry leaders including Subway, Panera, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Tyson, the largest U.S. poultry producer and a KFC supplier, in making this commitment. Currently, an estimated 42 percent of the U.S. chicken industry is either under an antibiotics stewardship pledge or has already converted to responsible practices, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
An estimated 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are destined for use with livestock. Low doses of the antibiotics are routinely given to animals, both to promote growth and prevent disease brought about by the often unsanitary conditions of intensive animal farming. This policy has lead to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which cause at least 23,000 deaths every year in the U.S., according to Reuters.
“Antibiotics are a critical class of drug, without which many medical advances such as complex surgeries, cancer therapies, and organ transplants, simply couldn’t be done,” says Dr. Bennett. “We cannot continue to abuse antibiotics in our animal farm practices without expecting further increases in antibiotic resistance.”
KFC has yet to release a full list of antibiotics it will be keeping out of its supply chain.