Fast Food Beef Suppliers Are Being Called Out Over Antibiotic Use

Despite numerous pledges to stop serving beef raised with the use of antibiotics, it seems that fast food chains haven't made much progress. Based on a recent investigation, The Guardian reports that the beef that's supplied to corporations like McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's is being sourced from farms that continue to use aggressive antibiotics in feed. And the findings have not only raised concerns, but also sparked condemnation.

It's important to note that antibiotics have been a part of livestock production for years. According to North American Meat Institute, they're used to treat, control, and prevent sickness in animals, along with promoting animal growth — the latter of which was banned by the FDA in January 2017. But, while farmers now require a veterinary prescription to purchase antibiotics, sales haven't reduced all that much as the drugs can still be justified for use in disease prevention.

In fact, unpublished records obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism show that several beef suppliers continue to use a shockingly high excess of antibiotics recognized as "highest priority critically important" (HP-CIAs), which are the strongest drugs used to treat bacterial infections. Of the data, suppliers of McDonald's beef were found to use a minimum of 5 HP-CIAs, whereas various cattle farms that supply beef to Taco Bell, Wendy's, Walmart, and Kroger were found to use 7 types of HP-CIAs.

Condemnation for the risks of antibiotic overuse on public health

Naturally, the lack of transparency in the cattle industry has led many to speak out, including Cory Booker, a senator advocating for stricter antibiotic regulations. Touching on the interest of meeting the skyrocketing demand, Booker claimed, via The Guardian, "Giant agribusinesses have built a system that is dependent on this misuse of antibiotics to [maximize] their profits, with no regard to the serious harm they are causing."

That looming harm is of course the potential for antibiotics to become ineffective following overuse. According to the WHO, as more of these aggressive drugs are used, bacteria starts to mutate, leading to resistance. Consequently, this can have dire consequences on consumers, should we fall ill. Given that the CDC estimates that close to 3 million infections and 35,000 deaths relating to antibiotic resistance occur annually in the U.S., the recent findings of HP-CIAs in beef offered at popular fast food chains and retailers isn't something to be taken lightly.

Making a case for public health, Dr. Sameer Patel, a specialist in infectious diseases at Chicago's Lurie Children's Hospital, explained, via The Guardian, "[Antibiotic overuse] creates an unrelenting cycle of escalation. You have to use more powerful antibiotics because you don't want a patient to become more ill and die. And then you use those more powerful antibiotics and then eventually you get resistant to those antibiotics."