McDonald’s Continues with Antibiotic Use in Livestock: Pros and Cons Explained

McDonald's

In the United States, McDonald’s is the biggest purchaser of beef and pork. The fast food chain is finding it difficult to keep up with consumers increasing demand for their antibiotic-free meat. McDonald’s is committed to serving antibiotic-free chicken, but serving antibiotic-free pork and beef is a bit challenging.

Consumers are concerned about the increasing antibiotic use in livestock. They want to know about the fast food giant’s plan for antibiotic-free pork and beef. But McDonald’s  says it’s too early to commit to antibiotic-free beef and pork right now.

Animals move to different places which makes their traceability difficult. McDonald’s  buys beef from different ranches, and each ranch has only 50 cows on average. McDonald’s knows where they buy their chicken from as there are two main U.S. suppliers of chicken. But, the sources of beef and pork are widespread.

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Why Does McDonald’s Use Antibiotics in Livestock?

If McDonald’s opts for antibiotic-free meat, they may face a shortage of beef and pork. Chicken can be ready for slaughtering in just two weeks, while a cow has to be least two years old. Within that period, there is a possibility that the animal may get sick. At such times, the need for antibiotics arises.

Animals must be healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, and safe. Restricting the use of antibiotics may affect an animal’s health and prevent the treatment of diseases.

When McDonald’s announced that within 10 years it would move to cage-free eggs, many companies planned to follow suit. Other fast food restaurants have also committed to stripping out antibiotics, but only for chicken.

Benefits of Antibiotics in Livestock

Animals who receive antibiotics gain four to five percent more weight than those who don’t. There is also a reduced risk of animals getting sick.

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Sick animals are also treated with antibiotics. Consequently, such animals live longer than those who don’t receive antibiotics. Antibiotics increase the shelf life of meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

Negative Effects of Antibiotics in Livestock

Extensive use of antibiotics has led to multidrug-resistant pathogens. According to the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, some strains of bacteria found in livestock have become immune to antibiotics.

The use of antibiotics in livestock leads to Salmonella-resistant strains found in meat and eggs. Antibiotics increase resistance in foodborne bacteria. These resistant bacteria cause infections in humans when they consume such meat.

The World Health Organization says that the overuse of antibiotics has led to a global health crisis. The more exposure we have to antibiotics, the less effective they will be.


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Sources:

Paulson, E. et al, “What are the pros and cons of using antibiotics in animal feed?,” Udel;
https://www1.udel.edu/chem/C465/senior/fall98/AntibiotFood2/pros_cons.html, last accessed April 19, 2017.

Bomkamp, S., “McDonald’s, fast-food chains find antibiotic-free beef, pork hard to deliver,” Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2017;
http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-mcdonalds-kfc-antibiotics-0418-biz-20170417-story.html