On Wednesday, McDonald’s announced that it would start using chicken meat from birds that have not been raised with antibiotics that are used to treat humans.
Because the fast food giant is one of the largest chicken buyers in the U.S. the move will likely have a huge impact on how poultry is raised and what kind of chicken is served in other restaurants.
The move toward offering largely antibiotic-free chicken will be phased in over a period of two years, said the company. The burger chain also announced that later in 2015, it would give its customers a choice between chocolate and low-fat milk from cows not treated with rBST the artificial growth hormone.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control has become increasingly more vocal about the concerns over using antibiotics in animal husbandry as more pathogens and bacteria are showing signs of resistance to the drugs.
The CDC estimated back in 2013 that 2 million people in the U.S. become sick each year due to infections that are antibiotic-resistant and as many 23,000 die from the infections.
The concern of the government has caught consumers’ attention and now food companies along with restaurants are using more and more labels that say antibiotic free as a marketing tool that at times allows them to command higher prices.
One analyst in the food safety industry said that the last time something similar to this was done by McDonald’s at least five other companies in the fast food industry followed suit within the next six months.
In a prepared statement, the National Chicken Council said the majority of antibiotics that were used to prevent disease in the industry were not given to humans.
McDonald’s is a bit late to step up to the plate in this. Partly because its size makes a change difficult because of supply chains that can fulfill 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. It took them two years just to establish sufficient contracts to supply its restaurants with cucumbers when they were added to the menu a number of years ago.