Investors See Double-Standard in Use of Antibiotics in McDonald's Meat Production

Sep 17th 2015

Shareholders file a proposal requesting a ban on antibiotics used for human medicine across all meats, hot just chicken, as a sign of the company’s commitment to promote public health.

NEW YORK, NY, THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2015 – Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and shareholders of meat producers and fast food restaurants have been urging their companies to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in meat production. Today these investors filed a formal resolution with McDonald’s addressing this issue.

Reports from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the President’s Council on Science and Technology indicate that growing antibiotic resistance is a global public health crisis threatening to overturn many of the medical advances made over the last century. Antibiotic-resistant infections cause over 2 million human illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S. costing society somewhere between $55 and $70 billion annually. The overuse of these medicines, including the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, primarily to promote animal growth and prevent disease outbreaks in concentrated animal feeding operations, has been cited as a major factor in human antibiotic resistance. In 2011, livestock consumed 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States, and more than half of these antibiotics are considered important for human medicine. 

Said Sr. Susan Mika of the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, TX, McDonald’s recently updated its policy to procure only chickens raised without antibiotics used to treat humans, which we roundly applauded as an important step forward in sustainable meat production and an acknowledgement that it understands the damage overexposure to antibiotics has on public health. But, we question why this important commitment isn’t also being applied to the beef and pork it sources, as hamburgers are a mainstay of McDonald’s business. This double-standard makes no sense to us; what’s good for the goose, ought to be good for the gander, or in this case, the whole farmyard,” continued Mika. 

According to a recent report, Chain Reaction, co-authored by Friends of the Earth, NRDC, FACT, Consumers Union, Keep Antibiotics Working and the Center for Food Safety: The prevalence of antibiotic misuse and overuse in U.S. meat production reflects a broader tendency of poor farm management and animal welfare practices in industrial U.S. meat production. Eliminating unnecessary uses of these antibiotics by the meat industry is an important step towards creating a healthier food system.

Farm mismanagement and cost cutting were also cited by Rep. Louise Slaughter of NY upon the re-introduction of her Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would ban the non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in food animal production.  

Said Slaughter, “My legislation would save eight critical classes of antibiotics from being routinely fed to healthy animals and would reserve them only for sick humans and sick animals. Right now, we are allowing the greatest medical advancement of the 20th century to be frittered away, in part because it’s cheaper for factory farms to feed these critical drugs to animals rather than clean up the deplorable conditions on the farm.”

Passage of the bill has been stalled in Congress due to heavy lobbying against it from agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies. 

The shareholders resolution asks that the Board update the 2015 McDonald’s Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals by adopting substantially the following policy regarding use of antibiotics by its meat suppliers: 

1)      Prohibit the use of antibiotics important to human medicine globally in the meat supply chain (including for chicken, beef, and pork), for purposes other than disease treatment or non-routine control of veterinarian-diagnosed illness (e.g. prohibit use for growth promotion and routine disease prevention, also known as prophylaxis).

2)      Identify timelines for global implementation of Vision, including for meats currently not supplied by dedicated suppliers. 

Investors are hopeful that McDonald’s will respond positively to the concerns expressed in the resolution and engage in constructive dialogue, but are prepared to present the issue to all shareholders at McDonald’s annual general meeting in May. 


About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)

Currently celebrating its 44th year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of active shareholders who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for change. Its 300 member organizations with over $100 billion in AUM have an enduring record of corporate engagement that has demonstrated influence on policies promoting justice and sustainability in the world.



Susana McDermott

Director of Communications


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