McDonald’s to cut antibiotics, as UN warns of superbug resistance

McDonald's pledged to remove all medicines crucial to human health from its supply chain by 2027. [De Lenscap Photography/Shutterstock]

In light of the EU egg scandal, fast food giant McDonald’s plans to phase out antibiotics from its poultry production chain starting in 2018. At the same time, the UN has warned of increased risk of antibiotic resistance from intensive animal farming.

McDonald’s announced last Wednesday (23 August) it would gradually phase out pharmaceuticals listed as critically important for human medicine by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from its global broiler chicken chain in Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the US, Australia, Russia, China and Europe.

McDonald’s global supply chain and its model of intensive farming will prove challenging to adapt, which is why the company set its target for 2027, giving itself ten years to comply.

The announcement comes after the European Commission launched a new action plan on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in June, considered responsible for 25,000 deaths per year in the EU alone.

Commission seeks ‘measurable goals’ in new antimicrobial resistance plan

Close collaboration with EU scientific agencies in order to define indicators for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and help member states set “measurable goals” takes centre stage in the European Commission’s renewed five-year AMR action plan.

The plan “focuses on areas with the highest added value for specific member states including, inter alia, by promoting the prudent use of antimicrobials, enhancing coordination and implementation of existing EU rules, improving infection prevention and extending surveillance of AMR and antimicrobial consumption,” a Commission spokesperson said.

The use of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals in farms is under review by the EU executive. New provisions will require member states to collect data on sales and use of antibiotics, ban the preventive use of antibiotics in medicated animal feed, and reserve certain antibiotics for human use only. Discussion on medicated feed has almost been finalised in the Council while the discussion on veterinary medicines remains ongoing.

One key antibiotic is Colistin, considered crucial for critically ill patients.

The European Commission plans to cut sales of Colistin for veterinary use by 65% in the next 3-4 years. Current sales vary across member states, with Italy and Spain registering the highest levels at 25/30 micrograms per animal per year – supposed to drop to 5 mg maximum.

Given the dependency of cattle breeders on Colistin in Europe, McDonald’s delayed the removal of this key medicine until the end of 2019.

Antibiotic resistance needs global response

Bacteria are becoming more resistant and only a few new types of antibiotic have been introduced in recent decades. Humanity could once again suffer millions of deaths each year from infectious diseases, warn Lars Adaktusson and Magnus Oscarsson.

But the Commission official told, “There is currently no intention in the EU to ban the use of colistin in animals by the end of 2019.”

On Sunday (27 August) the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations warned that animal medicines find their way to drinking-water sources and pose “serious health and environmental risks”.

“Greater understanding is needed of the contributions of animal medicines to the increasing problem of antimicrobial resistance among pathogens,” the study read.

Frequent or mass use of antibiotics can cause bacteria to change and build resistance to treatment. Breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals can cause deadly diseases in humans. This is a rising problem in intensive farming and aquaculture.

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