Why The NRDC Is Calling On McDonald's To Update Its Beef Info

In 2018, McDonald's looked like it had the power to lead the rest of the fast food world into an era free of antibiotics. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, the restaurant chain pledged to start pilot projects in 10 locations across the world to bring down the use of antibiotics in its beef supply and release its findings by 2020. Almost a year has passed since the deadline, and McDonald's has yet to release any information regarding its efforts to curb the use of this medicine in its livestock supply. As a result, experts no longer consider the business a leader when it comes to limiting the use of antibiotics in its food.

The company's failure to release results comes as a massive setback to guaranteeing a food supply chain free of antibiotics. The U.S. beef industry as a whole hasn't taken major steps to rid its cows of this medicine, and a staggering 41% of all medically important antibiotics sold for livestock purchases goes toward cows (compared to only 3% that gets used on chickens). Eat This, Not That! reports that a director with the NRDC now calls the 2018 promise a case of greenwashing, a business practice where a company spends more time marketing itself as environmentally friendly than actually pursuing ecologically-sound practices, per Business News Daily.

McDonald's responds

In response to the NRDC call out, the McDonald's Corporation provided this statement to Mashed: "McDonald's believes responsible antibiotic use is a critical public health issue and since 2018 has been using the size and scale of our supply chain to help influence responsible use within the livestock industry. By 2020, McDonald's completed a 16-month pilot test and worked with an independent agricultural research company, FAI Farms, to set a global baseline of antibiotic use based on data gathered across more than 30 million head of cattle. That groundwork has informed active collaboration with beef producers and industry leaders to explore meaningful market partnerships and reduction targets. Covid-19 travel and collaboration restrictions unexpectedly hindered the pace of this final step, but has not deterred our commitment. Within the next year, McDonald's plans to report further progress across our top 10 beef sourcing countries (these countries represent approximately 85% of McDonald's global beef volumes)."

Why meat without antibiotics matters

A shift towards antibiotic-free meat could prove crucial for public health in the future. According to Consumer Reports, the practice of treating massive amounts of livestock with antibiotics in hopes of preventing disease — rather than treating ailments — leads to antibiotic resistance. As of 2019, 15 of the top 25 chains that serve beef with antibiotics received failing grades when it came to having policies that limit this practice. Only Panera Bread and Chipotle received high marks for sourcing cattle that don't receive antibiotics.

This news should come as a shock, as the Natural Resource Defense Council explains that the medicine humans use to treat common diseases might not work due to antibiotic resistance traced back to the use of the medicine in livestock feed. The organization has called on McDonald's to immediately release their findings, or else they plan to label the 2018 commitment a meritless stunt. Only time can tell what happens next, but it appears that McDonald's now has to make the next move in this unfolding situation.