McDonald’s chicken decision a health boon

As goes McDonald’s, so goes the rest of the fast-food world? At least we hope that will be the case when it comes to McDonald’s recently announced policy to start using only chicken raised without medically important antibiotics.

This commitment will help reduce the overuse of antibiotics in meat. That, in turn, is a public health boon. Overuse of antibiotics leads to superbugs that are difficult to treat, killing some 23,000 Americans a year.

Many privately owned restaurants and some chains moved before McDonald’s did to stop buying from suppliers that regularly dose their animals with antibiotics. And McDonald’s new policy won’t happen overnight. Over the next two years, the company will begin buying chicken only from suppliers who don’t give certain antibiotics to healthy chicken.

With 14,000 McDonald’s in the United States (four in Clovis-Portales alone) this will broaden the choice of consumers who want healthier meat, especially for people who are more likely to eat at a fast-food joint than shop at Whole Foods.

The decision by McDonald’s is only one step toward reducing overuse of antibiotics in the food supply. Some 30 million pounds of antibiotics are sold in the United States every year to be given to animals destined to end up on the dinner table. The drugs often aren’t being used to treat illness, but rather to promote growth or prevent disease in animals — caused by raising too many animals in close quarters. The animals don’t eat well, and their living conditions are often nasty.

Rather than give the animals room to roam or clean up their area, big meat growers simply stuff the chickens or cattle full of antibiotics. Such routine use is bad for the animals and bad for the people who want to eat them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, 2 million Americans become ill with antibiotic-resistant infections.

Regulators, such as the Food and Drug Administration, long have known that such wanton use of antibiotics can lead to drug-resistant bugs.

Choice is another way to do what regulators and lawmakers don’t do. By consumers patronizing restaurants that offer healthier fare, businesses respond — as McDonald’s is doing now by choosing to buy chickens that aren’t riddled with so many antibiotics.

That’s an important beginning. Costco is already working on a similar policy, and we predict more restaurants and grocery stores will follow suit.

Consumers should keep demanding meat that contains fewer antibiotics. Their buying power will push change — perhaps even faster than a new law or regulation.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican