Burger King to Eliminate Medically Important Antibiotics from Chicken by End of 2018

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The parent company of Burger King and Tim Horton’s announced yesterday that it would be eliminating all medically important antibiotics from the chicken supply chains of these restaurant chains in the United States and in Canada by the end of next year.

Restaurant Brands International is the latest in a long line of fast food companies to make such a commitment, joining McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, and Chick-fil-A.

“We have officially passed the tipping point on antibiotics use in chicken served by the U.S. fast food industry,” says Lena Brook, Food Policy Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, of the announcement. “With this commitment, Burger King and Tim Hortons are helping to keep our lifesaving drugs working when sick people need them.”

Restaurant Brands International, which bought Popeye’s Louisiana Chicken this year, said that it intends to eventually apply this policy to all of its brands, though a timeline has not been set, Reuters reports.

Restaurant Brands International had first announced in January that it would be phasing antibiotics out of its chicken supply chain, but the announcement, which the NRDC called “disappointing” at the time, only applied to three classes of drugs, two of which were already nearly obsolete. The NRDC called the January announcement “a near meaningless change over business as usual.” This new announcement broadens the scope and brings Burger King up to the standards of its competitors.

More than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics in the United States are sold for use in livestock. These drugs are generally distributed en masse to stave off illness caused by the living conditions of these animals and to promote unnaturally fast growth.

The agricultural overuse of antibiotics contributes heavily to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these bacteria cause at least 23,000 deaths in the United States every year. Reports earlier this month showed that resistance to modern medicine’s “last resort” antibiotic, colistin, was spreading at an alarming rate after it first surfaced eighteen months ago in Chinese hogs.

While today, 11 of the top 15 fast food chains have made some sort of responsible antibiotic commitment for their chicken supply chains, the battle is not yet won. The NRDC is targeting the beef and pork industries as “the next frontier in the fight against the drug resistance epidemic,” according to Brook.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco