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McDonald's Is No Longer a Leader in This Important Food Quality Factor

The chain has once again been accused of dropping the ball on major public health promises.

McDonald's has been accused of another case of greenwashing, and this time, its failure to act could have major implications on public health.

Overtreating livestock with antibiotics can increase the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria—this is hardly a new finding. Nether is the fact that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can subsequently infect humans, which can cause infections that are more difficult to treat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations across America (and around the globe) have tracked the issue for years via programs like the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria (or NARMS) and others.

McDonald's Would Need To Change Its Entire Menu to Meet New Goal, Experts Say

The problem is that the groups tracking the issue can often do little more than that: keep track. It is up to producers and major purchasers of livestock to take action and curtail the heavy use of prophylactic antibiotics—drugs used to treat infections on a large scale rather than treating sick animals on a case-by-case basis. And in 2018, McDonald's, the largest buyer of beef in the United States, made a pledge to do just that.

McDonald's announced three years ago that it restrict antibiotic use among its beef suppliers, and was to run pilot projects across the U.S. that would help them set reduction targets by the end of 2020.

The company released a statement that read in part: "As one of the world's largest food companies we will use our scale for good, partnering with industries in transparent conversation to advance practices related to use of antibiotics and susceptibility testing."

However, according to Lena Brook, a director with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we're nearly a year past that deadline, and the chain still hasn't shared any information about its progress on reaching this goal. What's more, the chain made a similar pledge pertaining to the chicken industry in 2015, which positioned it as an early leader for the cause of ending the use of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. chicken supply chain. But Brook says "the company has fallen from its leadership position" since, and calls these promises a case of greenwashing.

Danny O'Malley, president and founder of the plant-based food company Before the Butcher, noted that McDonald's showed "a blatant disregard for the reduction pledge they so boldly stated in 2018." However, he said, there may still be hope for the chain to redeem itself with its new plant-based burger. "Let's hope that McDonald's introduction of the McPlant in the U.S. sizzles rather than fizzles as we have seen [with] their pledge to restrict antibiotics in beef produced for the company."

McDonald's did not return our request for comment on this matter.

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Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more about Steven