Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, is facing pressure from investors to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in its supply chain. Green Century Capital Management said last week that it had filed a shareholder proposal to encourage Darden to modify its antibiotics policy.
"In its current form the policy is insufficient, as it does not prohibit the use of medically important antibiotics for other routine purposes, such as disease prevention, allowing for the company's continued contribution to the antibiotic resistance crisis," Green Century said.
Olive Garden is one of the worst offenders for its use of antibiotics in meat and recently received an F grade in Chain Reaction, a report and scorecard that grades restaurant’s policies on antibiotics.
“Olive Garden is in the perfect storm of investor concern and consumer demand for meat raised without routine antibiotics,” Matthew Wellington, field director with U.S. PIRG Antibiotics Program, told Friends of the Earth. “Making this change should be a no brainer, it’s good business and it’s good for our health.”
Darden claims that its current policy is in line with FDA guidelines, which encourage the phasing out of antibiotics but allow them as long as they are approved by a veterinarian.
“Darden should stop misleading its shareholders by pretending that its adherence to weak FDA guidelines will significantly reduce the overuse of antibiotics in its supply chain.” said Kari Hamerschlag, Food and Technology Program deputy director at Friends of the Earth.
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This recent move by investors follows a letter sent to Darden Restaurants in April from a coalition of American and British investors managing more than $1 trillion in assets encouraging a move away from antibiotics.
The coalition sent similar letters to nine other restaurants, including Domino’s Pizza Group and Brinker International Restaurants, which owns Chili’s Bar and Grill.
Some companies have responded to this demand from consumers and have adopted stricter policies than the one required by the FDA, such as Subway, Panera Bread, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, and Wendy’s.
“There’s a perception that ‘sit down’ restaurants serve a higher-end product than fast food chains,” said Wellington. “But in this case it’s McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A that are raising the bar, and Olive Garden that’s falling short. We’re hoping to change that.”
Nearly 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in livestock and animal production to prevent diseases, given the unsanitary farm conditions of most factory farms. In the UK, where about half of all antibiotics are given to farm animals, the government recently called this process “excessive and inappropriate” in a paper that found that drug-resistant infections brought about by antibiotic overuse could cost about $100 trillion in lost output globally by 2050.
The April letter was sent after warnings from the World Health Organization that irresponsible antibiotic use would lead the world toward a “post-antibiotic era” rife with untreatable infections.
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Olive garden image via Shutterstock