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McDonald's and Taco Bell Still Use Beef That Is Putting Public Health at Risk, According to a New Investigation

These fast-food companies are accused of contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."

Nobody wants to buy beef that will harm their families or the environment, but companies often try to keep it under wraps or skirt the issue when it comes to what's in their beef. Case in point, many fast-food restaurants have pledged to reduce the use of antibiotics from where they source their beef. Some, aren't actually making any headway into making due on the promise, and, in fact, still have ties to suppliers that have some questionable practices.

A recent investigation by The Guardian revealed that McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's have ties to farms and meat-packing firms that are using dangerous antibiotics. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian obtained unpublished government records that tied the three chains to beef suppliers that still use antibiotics considered 'highest priority critically important' to human health or HP-CIAs.

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The World Health Organization has called for the use of these types of antibiotics to be stopped in food sources because they are considered essential for saving human lives and the use in food animals can make the bacteria resistant to these antibiotics, putting human lives in jeopardy. U.S. Senator Cory Booker even goes so far as to label the use of these antibiotics by some companies a 'reckless overuse' and to call the use a major contributor to this deadly public health threat, built on maximizing profit over human health.

And he's not wrong in terms of the amount of use. According to the investigation, 10 of the biggest meat packers had evidence of these HP-CIAs, with some using as high as seven. JBS, which sells to Wendy's and Taco Bell, was found to have the highest at seven. Cargill, the company that sells to McDonald's was found to have five. And, the study says, there were other antibiotics found that weren't considered HP-CIAs.

In terms of legality, the U.S. banned the use of antibiotics for growth purposes in 2017, and the use of all antibiotics dropped substantially. However, there is no ban on antibiotics for the treatment or prevention of disease in animals, and one veterinarian and public health consultant, said in the article, that the level the companies were using for illness prevention was essentially at the same level as those used for growth in the past.

All three companies have pledged to reduce antibiotics in their meat supply. Taco Bell is shooting for a 25% reduction by 2025. Wendy's has pledged to reduce the use of medically-important antibiotics' by 2030. McDonald's did not meet its initial goal and had to revise its plan for beef. For the use of antibiotics by other fast-food companies check out: 12 Fast-Food Chains That Use the Lowest Quality Beef.

In the end, there isn't any evidence that antibiotic-free meat is safer to consume and some antibiotic use is necessary to prevent disease and ensure healthy animals. Both ​​JBS and Cargill had statements to that effect. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control antibiotic resistance is responsible for 35,000 deaths in the U.S. and 1.3 million worldwide so its use is certainly a real public threat.

Meaghan Cameron
Meaghan Cameron is Deputy Editor of Restaurants at Eat This, Not That! Read more about Meaghan