Antibiotics in Meat Production

Antibiotics in animal agriculture

Antibiotics, even those important to human medicine, are frequently used for rapid growth promotion in livestock  and poultry and to prevent illness in animals living in cramped and unhealthy conditions. The FDA estimates that animal agriculture accounts for 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotic use. 

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics in the meat industry is contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistance in the U.S. and across the world. This serious public health issue is responsible for 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths each year.

Which major food companies are committed to reducing antibiotic use? The Pew Charitable Trusts analyzes which companies are leading the way in a series of detailed charts:

Investors' Campaign at McDonald's

ICCR members are calling n McDonald's to update its antibiotics policy to cover all meats - not just chicken, as it currently does.

Read the Investors' Press Release

When McDonald’s announced last year that it was updating its policy to procure only chickens raised without antibiotics used to treat humans, ICCR members applauded the move as an important first step forward in sustainable meat production and an acknowledgement that management concedes the dangers over-exposure to antibiotics can have on public health. But, when the policy wasn’t extended to cover beef and pork, mainstay meats in the restaurants’ menus, they re-filed a resolution requesting that the antibiotics policy be expanded to include all meats. The proposal received the backing of proxy voting advisors ISS which we are hopeful will drive shareholder support and result in a strong vote. 

ICCR members advocate for restricting antibiotics in food production to therapeutic use only. Specifically, we urge food companies and restaurant chains to:

  • Adopt a policy (effective through both company-owned and contract farms), to protect human health, by restricting the non-therapeutic use (such as for growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain, or disease prevention) of antibiotics in the meat supply chain.
  • Report on the amount of antibiotics used, and for what purpose through to contract farmers (may start with company-owned and then on contract farms)
  • Adopt a management plan to reduce nutrient pollution in its supply chain with specific goals for pollution prevention and goals on reduction of wastewater discharge in facilities and throughout the supply chain

Featured ICCR Initiative

Together with ShareAction and FAIRR, ICCR is urging nine restaurant chains to end non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The joint investor letter urges food companies and restaurant chains to:

  • Seek to prohibit the use of all medically-important antibiotics in the global meat and poultry supply chain, for purposes other than disease treatment or non-routine control of illness. This would allow the continuation of preventative group treatments where disease has been diagnosed within the group; and,
  • Identify appropriate timelines for global implementation of this guidance and report back to shareholders on implementation.

The companies are:

  • Brinker International Restaurants
  • Domino's Pizza Group
  • J.D. Wetherspoon
  • McDonald's
  • Mitchells & Butlers
  • Restaurant Brands International
  • The Restaurant Group
  • The Wendy's Company
  • Yum! Brands

Major proxy voting service ISS has recommended in favor of investors' 2016 McDonald's antibiotics proposal, which means the proposal will be broadly supported by institutional investors.

Featured Resources 

Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return - Investor Case Studies, Volume 2: Discusses the risks and opportunities of intensive animal farming (aka concentrated animal feeding operations/CAFOs)

Chain Reaction: How Top Restaurants Rate on Reducing Use of Antibiotics in Their Meat Supply: New Friends of the Earth report and scorecard grades America's top restaurant chains on their policies and practices regarding antibiotics

ICCR Statement of Principles and Recommended Practices for Sustainable and Equitable Food Production: ICCR whilte paper presents our recommendations for corporate best practices for food production.

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future: Driven by the concept that public health, diet, food production and the environment are deeply interrelated and that understanding these relationships is crucial in pursuing a livable future.

Keep Antibiotics Working:A coalition of health, consumer, agricultural, environmental, humane and other advocacy groups with more than eleven million members dedicated to eliminating a major cause of antibiotic resistance: the inappropriate use of antibiotics in food animals.



Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic Resistance - How it happens and what you can do about

Antibiotics in Animal Agriculure

Investors launch campaign against antibiotics in food

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