Fifteen of America's favorites received an "F" for their inaction to reduce the use of beef raised with antibiotics, including Burger King, DQ, Jack In the Box, Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, Chili's, Sonic , Applebee's, and the pizza chains of Domino's, Little Caesars, and Pizza Hut.
Only Chipotle and Panera Bread, who were early leaders when using only antibiotic-free beef and chicken, received an "A."
This is the fifth year that six public interest groups have graded the 25 largest US fast food chains where they stand on antibiotics. The report, called Chain Reaction V, focuses on antibiotic use in both poultry and beef products.
Antibiotics are routinely given to animals to keep them healthy as they become fat for slaughter. In fact, nearly two-thirds of medically important antibiotics sold in the United States go to food animals.
When antibiotics are over-consumed, some bacteria learn to survive, multiply, and share their resistance genes with other bacteria, even though they have not been exposed. The so-called "super bugs" come into our system when we eat cooked meat or vegetables that have been exposed to irrigated water contaminated with animal waste.
And suddenly antibiotics that once cured the infections no longer do their job.
Despite the severity of the problem, the United States lacks appropriate laws to regulate antibiotic overuse in our food chain. Thus, advocacy groups have approached some of the largest buyers of raw beef and chicken restaurants – and asked them to use their purchasing power to force change.
Fewer antibiotics in chicken we eat
And it works. A huge success story over the last five years is the reduction of chicken farmed with antibiotics at many of our favorite restaurants, said Lena Brook, director of food campaigns for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups sponsoring the study. Others include consumer reports, the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the Center for Food Safety.
According to the report, 90% of the chickens reared last year did not receive any medically important antibiotics. Compare that to 2014, when "nearly half of the nine billion broiler chickens produced in the United States were farmed annually on a full range of antibiotics, including medically important drugs," the report said.
For consumers, it means antibiotic-free chicken is served at 13 of the 25 restaurants included in the study, including such heavy duty brewers as Chick-fil-A, KFC, McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's .
Four more restaurants are on track to keep the commitment to serving antibiotic-free chicken. However, eight restaurants still have no policy in place.
The early push of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread, followed by Chick-fil-A, McDonald's and Subway, started a domino effect that encouraged large chicken utilities to advance the board, the report states.
"In the spring of 2015, Purdue and Tyson made a really big splash as they committed to limiting antibiotic use in chicken suppliers, and they are two of the top five chicken companies in the country," Brook said. "So now we're looking for that kind of shift in the beef industry."
High use of antibiotics in beef
It is only the second year the report has focused on beef, but some progress has been made. As in recent years, the only two A's were awarded Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread.
The two chains have consistently stood above the rest by ensuring that beef, poultry and pork used in their foods are farmed without antibiotics.
Despite their chicken success, most of the top burger chains and restaurants, when Burger King, DQ and Jack in the Box, failed to take any measures to reduce the use of beef raised on antibiotics in their supply chains . Others did not respond to the survey at all, just like last year.
Subway and McDonald's got a "C" to commit to begin the process of to use antibiotic-free beef in the foods.
Having a major player like McDonald's announcing that they plan to make a comprehensive antibiotic reduction policy is a "game changer," the report states.
"They are one of the largest meat food buyers in the world," Brook said. "So if they do this right, they will have a critical impact not only in the United States, but in many places around the world in reforming antibiotic use practices."
McDonald's is in the pilot phase of their commitment, Brook said, with plans to announce reduction targets by the end of 2020. The promise of listing jumped their score from an "F" to a "C."
Taco Bell, another major buyer of beef, said it would cut 25% of medically important antibiotics in the beef supply chain by 2025 The entertaining commitment earned them a "D" for minimal effort.
"We would like to see such a modest commitment be implemented more quickly," Brook said. "Six years feels like a long time to wait for only a 25% reduction."
Wendy & # 39; s got a "D +" for a confusing promise to act that didn't really achieve much, Brook said.
"They cut a drug by 20% on less than a third of beef supply. This takes signs to solve the problem," Brook said. "We're really concerned that Wendy's washing the green, or providing delivery services for an environmental action to make their company look better.
" There are still other companies finding out, "she added." So we know that it is feasible, and given the seriousness of the threat posing the crisis for antibiotic resistance, there is really no excuse for inaction. "
CNN reached out to all the restaurants mentioned in the report. Subway said it had no comment at this time. Domino's Pizza sent a statement saying they believed in allowing farmers and ranchers to raise the animals, although "they have a number of internal guidelines that we are not currently posting publicly; nor do we participate in unsolicited surveys. "
Panda Express told CNN that they had added two menu items using antibiotic-free chicken and worked
to Dine Brands, who owns Applebee's and IHOP, said that "in 2018, we made significant progress in reducing the routine use of medically important antibiotics in both poultry and pork and began working to address our beef supply in 2019 … unfortunately, Chain Reactions questionnaire survey prevented us from reporting this work. "
In a statement provided to CNN, Keith Kenny, Global Vice President of McDonald's Sustainability, said," Through our recent commitment, we are proud to partner with our global beef supply chain to accelerate responsible use of antibiotics, while continuing to look after animal health and welfare in our supply chain. " None of the other restaurants responded before publishing this story.