TUCSON, Ariz. - For decades, antibiotics have been used on livestock and poultry to prevent disease and promote growth in crowded and unsanitary mass production facilities.
"We have a crisis with resistance to antibiotics," says Craig Watts, Consumer Reports. "Antibiotics are not working for people the way they used to. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has estimated that 23,000 people a year are dying from infections that should have been cured by antibiotics but the drugs aren't working. I think early on when they were, the antibiotics were definitely overused. And I think the, the proof is in the pudding with the superbugs that have formed."
Fast food chains are among the largest meat buyers in the country, which means they can demand certain things from their supplies, like pushing meat producers to use antibiotics responsibly.
"The truth is, a chicken is, uh, antibiotic free. Even if it's sick, it's worth more than a healthy chicken that's been fed antibiotics, because they command a higher price if you're antibiotic free," says Watts.
"In the fast food chains, which includes companies like McDonalds, there's been huge improvement in terms of getting the antibiotics out of chicken production. But the beef industry has lagged behind," says Jean Halloran, Consumer Reports.
Out of 25 burger chains surveyed, 22 received an F grade for failing to make meaningful commitments to address antibiotic misuse in their beef supply chains. Those failing chains include Burger King, Sonic and McDonald's, the largest purchaser of beef in the country. No burger chain got a grade in the "B's" or C's. Wendy's received a D-, for making only a modest step in its sourcing of beef. But two up and coming chains, Shake Shack and BurgerFi received an A grade for getting medically-important antibiotics entirely out of their beef supply.
"What this shows is that this can be done," says Halloran. "So we hope that the other companies in the industry will learn from their example and follow suit."