Burger King plans to switch to chicken raised without antibiotics considered "critically important" to human medicine, their owner said on Wednesday, making it the latest company to ditch the drugs over health concerns.
Restaurant Brands International Inc said it aims to make the change in US stores in 2017 and in Canada in 2018.
An estimated 70 per cent of antibiotics that are important to fighting human infections and ensuring the safety of invasive procedures such as surgeries are sold for use in meat and dairy production.
Concern has been growing among scientists, public health experts, consumers and shareholders that the overuse of such drugs is contributing to rising numbers of life-threatening human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria dubbed "superbugs."
"We believe that it is important to reduce the use of antibiotics important for human medicine in order to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics in both veterinary and human medicine," Restaurant Brands said.
The company did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million people in the United States are infected with drug-resistant bacteria each year and that 23,000 die as a direct result.
Officials with health advocacy group As You Sow said they have been working with Restaurant Brands on its antibiotics policy for more than a year.
Fast food wage protests across the world
Fast food wage protests across the world
1/10 Fast food strikes
Fast-food workers take part in a protest to demand an increase of the fastfood workers minimun wage in New York
AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DunandEMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
2/10 Fast food strikes
Demonstrators gather outside a McDonald's resturant in New York May
3/10 Fast food strikes
A Mariachi band takes part in a protest in front of a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago, Illinois
4/10 Fast food strikes
Emmanuel Dawson protests for higher wages outside a McDonalds restaurant in Detroit
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
5/10 Fast food strikes
Labour union members raise placards to demand payment of 1,500 yen ($15) an hour for a part-time job at a McDonald's fast-food restaurant in Tokyo
AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNOYOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
6/10 Fast food strikes
Burger King employee Brittany Buckhannon, 24, right, demonstrates during a protest for higher wages and worker's unions outside a McDonald's restaurant in Atlanta,Georgia.
AP Photo/David Goldman
7/10 Fast food strikes
Selmira Wilson (R) who said she works for McDonald's joins in a fast food workers protest in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
8/10 Fast food strikes
Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles, California
9/10 Fast food strikes
Fast food workers protest for higher wages and rights outside a branch of McDonalds in central London
AFP PHOTO / CARL COURTCARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
10/10 Fast food strikes
A protester dressed as Ronald McDonald participates in a rally to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside a McDonald restaurant in Seoul, South Korea
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
In February, the group withdrew a shareholder proposal calling on the company to develop a stricter policy after Restaurant Brands agreed to address the issue before the end of 2016.
Austin Wilson, environmental health program manager for As You Sow, said the company's new plan represented progress. Still, he said it was "disappointing, since it is weaker than the standards set in the last year or two by Tyson, McDonald’s and Wendy’s."
McDonald's Corp has already removed all antibiotics important to human medicine from its US chicken supply chain, and Wendy's Co said in August it would quit using chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health by 2017.
Tyson Foods Inc, the biggest US chicken processor, has said it intends to stop using all antibiotics important to human medicine to raise its chickens in 2017.
Restaurant Brands is only eliminating drugs that are "the most critical in human medicine" from its supply, Mr Wilson said.
Yum Brands Inc's KFC stands out as the last major chicken chain to make a move on curbing antibiotic use.
KFC has far more restaurants than any other fast-food chicken chain and is second in sales behind Chick-fil-A, which has committed to finishing its switch to chicken raised without any antibiotics by the end of 2019.
As You Sow has filed a shareholder proposal requesting that Yum phase out harmful antibiotics from its meat supply in a bid to prompt changes at KFC.
- More about:
- Burger King
- antibiotic resistance