Best, Worst Fast-Food Chains for Antibiotics in Meat

The overuse of antibiotics — including in animals used for food — is one of the country’s top health threats, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because it has led to “superbug” infections that no longer respond to medication.

There has been consumer pressure on the meat industry to stop the routine use of antibiotics to fatten animals and prevent disease in crowded conditions, but consumer groups have also been pressuring the major fast-food chains to switch to suppliers of antibiotic-free meat.

In a new report card grading the top 25 fast-food and fast-casual chains on how far they’ve come in serving meat without antibiotics, all but five companies got failing grades.

Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread were the only fast-food chains to get A grades for eliminating antibiotics from the majority of the meat they serve, according to a report by a group of environmental and public-advocacy groups.

Among the big names drawing failing grades: Subway, Starbucks, Denny’s and Olive Garden.

The new report, believed to be the first of its kind, graded the chains on their current antibiotics policy. The companies were each sent a questionnaire, and their responses (or failure to respond), along with statements made by the companies either in the press or on their websites, were used to calculate the score.

“From double bacon cheeseburgers to chicken nuggets, most meat served by America’s top chain restaurants comes from animals raised in industrial-scale facilities where they are routinely fed antibiotics,” the six advocacy groups wrote in their report. The result, they explained, is super-resistant bacteria that can spread to consumers.

“The worsening epidemic of resistance means that antibiotics may not work when we need them most: when our kids contract a staph infection (MRSA), or our parents get a life-threatening pneumonia,” the report said.

Here are the report card results:

Chipotle and Panera received top marks because they have adopted policies that prohibit the use of antibiotics, their policies apply to all types of meat they serve, and, with only a few exceptions, they’ve implemented those policies.

About 90 percent of the meat Chipotle serves is free of antibiotics. Panera reports that 100 percent of its chicken and pork is raised without antibiotics, and about a third of its turkey. The company is still reviewing its beef policy: One of its beef suppliers does not use antibiotics, while another supplier uses antibiotics only when the animals are sick.

Chick-fil-A received a B. The company pledged in 2014 to stop using chicken raised with antibiotics by 2019. Currently 20 percent of the chicken it serves meets that goal.

Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s got C’s. Dunkin’ Donuts has adopted a good policy, Consumers Union found, but has not set a timetable for implementation. McDonald’s policy applies only to chicken, and the company has not indicated the current percentage of poultry served that’s raised without antibiotics, according to the report.

The other 20 restaurants received a failing grade — mostly for failing to adopt policies publicly. These include Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, Denny’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, IHOP and Subway; Subway is the largest fast-food chain the world.

Subway’s F grade, for example, came largely because the company did not respond to the survey and because of unclear company statements in media reports about “targeting to transition” to chickens raised without antibiotics by next year. Starbucks was also downgraded for not responding to the survey and failure to adopt a clear, public policy.

The other chains either had no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry or had policies that could allow for the continued use of antibiotics.

Photos: Courtesy Consumer Reports and Consumers Union

 

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