McDonald’s will stop selling broiler chicken treated with Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HPCIAs), the chain announced last Wednesday. McDonald’s had previously achieved its goal of phasing medically important antibiotics out of its U.S. supply chain in 2016.
HPCIAs are a group of medicines that the World Health Organization has deemed some of the most valuable antibiotics used in human medicine.
McDonald’s detailed its plan for phasing out these antibiotics in a press release Wednesday, noting that countries in the first phase, with a goal of January 2018, would include Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.
The chain has also set a goal of phasing out colistin in Europe by the same date. Sometimes dubbed the “last resort” antibiotic, colistin is rarely prescribed for human use except in cases of severely antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Resistance to colistin has been surfacing around the world at an alarming rate since a colistin-resistant bacterium first emerged in Chinese pigs nearly two years ago.
Following this first phase, the chain will eliminate HPCIAs from broiler chicken served in Australia and Russia by the end of 2019. HPCIAs should be phased out of chicken served at McDonald’s restaurants around the world by January 2027.
“While this worldwide policy is not as ambitious as the U.S. policy, which eliminated all antibiotics important to human medicine, it’s still a significant step forward globally,” notes ConnPIRG, a Connecticut consumer group.
McDonald’s also announced an intention to reduce antibiotic use in its pork and beef supplies, though without a detailed timeline. The company did tell consumer groups Wednesday that it plans first to focus on beef produced in ten countries, representing 85 percent of the company’s total beef supply, and it hopes to have a timeline for these changes soon.
“We view this progress as significant milestone in our food journey, where we can achieve impactful change on a key issue, and we feel that these timelines give McDonald’s and suppliers the ability to set credible, achievable goals,” reads the company press release.
Seventy percent of medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. today are fed to healthy livestock in order to promote faster growth as well as to prevent disease due to unsanitary living conditions. Experts agree that this overuse of antibiotics is contributing to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which lead to illness in at least two million people every year in the U.S. and are the cause of 23,000 deaths annually, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization has warned that these drug-resistant bacteria could bring about the “end of modern medicine as we know it.”