In response to investors & public health groups, meat producers and fast-food restaurants restrict antibiotics in chicken; hurdles persist for beef and pork

Apr 13th 2017

Investors encourage companies to go further, move faster to address growing public health risk of antibiotics overuse. 

New York, NY, Thursday, April 13, 2017 - Shareholder members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility who have been engaging meat producers and restaurant chains on their continued use of meat raised with antibiotics used in human medicine, today cited recent progress made by companies on chicken but urged more comprehensive and accelerated action to address the growing risk. 

As the scientific evidence tying antibiotic use in meat production to dangerous antibiotic resistance in humans continues to mount, consumers, public health advocates and investors have all registered their strong concerns with industry representatives via consumer actions, letters and in shareholder engagements, including the filing of resolutions for the 2017 proxy ballots of several companies. 

Earlier this year, ICCR members filed resolutions with McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Restaurant Brands International and Sanderson Farms seeking policies that would ensure that the companies would use antibiotics in meat only if they were needed to cure sickness. Current practice is to administer antibiotics routinely and regularly across animal populations. At risk is the continued effectiveness of these medicines for humans, and the investors are concerned at the speed and scope of company commitments. 

Said Sr. Susan Mika of the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, TX, and leader of the engagement with McDonald’s “McDonald’s has not advanced on their antibiotics policy for two years in spite of investors’ repeated engagements on this issue. While the company got a lot of public credit for saying that it would eliminate antibiotics from its U.S. chicken supply, it never followed through with beef and pork policies in spite of the fact that these meats account for a huge portion of its sales. The vote behind our antibiotics resolution at last year’s annual meeting was extremely strong at 26.3% and we are hopeful that 2017 will be the year that McDonald’s closes the gap to ensure all its meat offerings are antibiotic-free.” 

On the producer side, Perdue and Tyson are leaders in the sector, making commitments to increase their production of antibiotic-free meat. Competitors Pilgrim’s Pride and Foster Farms are also moving to reduce antibiotics use and after years of shareholder engagement with Hormel (which acquired the organic and antibiotic-free brand Applegate Farms in 2015), the company recently released a public statement signaling its commitment to investigate removing antibiotics from its meat supply.  

Said Nadira Narine, Senior Program Director at ICCR, “Hormel recognizes that business opportunities exist in going antibiotic-free. In the end, all companies that produce or source meats will need to address these risks. Our view as investors is that it is much better to do so sooner than later."

In stark contrast, Sanderson Farms has not only refused to examine the antibiotics issue, it has developed a marketing campaign around its refusal to bend to public pressure on the issue, claiming in advertising that removing antibiotics would force it to raise its prices. A resolution at Sanderson was voted on at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in February and received 30% of shareholder support.  

And among restaurant chains, KFC U.S. recently agreed to source only chicken raised without medically important antibiotics, leading the proponent of a resolution on the topic at parent company Yum to withdraw it.

Observed Austin Wilson of As You Sow, which successfully negotiated the withdrawal at Yum, a withdrawal with Restaurant Brands, and filed a resolution at Sanderson Farms, “Producers like Perdue and restaurant chains like KFC are demonstrating that responsibly-produced meat is not only possible, it is a growing business opportunity. Investors are mystified by the obstinate attitude of Sanderson Farms, in the face of scientific consensus that antibiotic overuse is contributing to a public health crisis, and market data that demonstrates consumer concern about antibiotics.” 

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
Celebrating its 46th year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of shareholder advocates who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for social change. Its 300 member organizations comprise faith communities, socially responsible asset managers, unions, pensions, NGOs and other socially responsible investors with combined assets of over $200 billion. ICCR members engage hundreds of corporations annually in an effort to foster greater corporate accountability on questions such as climate change, corporate water stewardship, sustainable food production, human trafficking and slavery in global supply chains and increased access to financial and health care services for communities in need.