McDonalds to stop using human antibiotics in its chicken

It is feared the use of antibiotics vital for human medicine in livestock could make bacteria resistant

McDonald’s has announced it will gradually stop selling chicken treated with antibiotics across its European outlets, amid concerns that overuse could make crucial medications less effective in humans.

The European arm of the world’s biggest restaurant chain said that it will stop using fluoroquinolones and marcolides over the next three years, in an attempt to prevent bacteria from becoming resistant to drugs.

Both fluoroquinolones and marcolides have been classified as “highest priority critically important” antibiotics by the World Health Organisation.

However, the chain will continue using antibiotic medication suitable for poultry and not considered medically important for humans.

Over the next two years, McDonald's outlets in the US will stop using chicken injected with antibiotics which are considered important to human medicine. It will also no longer serve milk from cows treated with a particular artificial growth hormone, rbST.

Antiobiotics are often used in large-scale farming to treat and prevent disease in animals often kept in tight conditions, and to make livestock grow faster. 

Gail Hansen, a senior officer with the antibiotic resistance project with The Pew Charitable Trusts told The Associated Press: “This really does move the ball quite a bit.”

She added the poultry industry had already been moving away from the use of antibiotics used in human medicine, which likely made the decision by McDonald's easier.

The changes come as McDonald’s attempts to boost waning sales.

Worldwide like-for-like sales at McDonald's - which strip out the effect of new restaurants opening - fell by a more-than-expected 1.8 per cents in January on the back of a supplier scandal in China, BBC News reported. 

Meanwhile, smaller-scale restaurants positioning themselves as more wholesome alternatives, including burrito chain Chipotle and sandwich outlet Panera, have already stopped using chickens raised on antibiotics.

A spokeswoman for McDonald's in the UK said: "In line with other retailers and the UK poultry industry, McDonald's UK and Europe continue to work closely with our suppliers to monitor and reduce the use of antibiotics among chickens in our supply chain.

“Alongside today's announcements from McDonald's USA, McDonald's Europe announced plans to phase out the use of those antibiotics that play a crucial role in the human treatment of specific and serious infections and diseases, from our poultry supply chain."

Marion Gross, senior vice president of the McDonald's North America supply chain, said that the company "believes that any animals that become ill deserve appropriate veterinary care and our suppliers will continue to treat poultry with prescribed antibiotics".

But after treatment the bird would "no longer be included in our food supply", she said.

Additional reporting by PA and AP