Fast-food giant McDonald’s announced today that it will cease buying chicken raised with the routine use of most antibiotics, a move that seems certain to reframe the contentious debate about agriculture’s use of the increasingly precious drugs. The company set a deadline of two years to make chicken in its 14,000 US locations substantially antibiotic-free.
The announcement instantly makes McDonald’s the largest company by far to use its buying power to change how livestock are raised. Its 25 million US customers a day dwarf those at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which pioneered fast food using antibiotic-free meat, and also at Chick-fil-A, which announced a year ago that it would move to antibiotic-free chicken in five years.
McDonald’s new policy doesn’t solve the farm-antibiotics problem. The company is making the move only for chicken, not for beef or pork (though chicken is already the meat Americans eat the most). And the policy has important caveats. But since McDonald’s is the largest food-service buyer of chicken in America, this can’t help but affect other restaurants, and production of other meats.
In a phone interview, Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald’s North America Supply Chain, said the company made the move because customers have been asking for it. “This about meaningful action that is important to our customers,” she said. “We’re happy to be able to achieve this. This is not something new; we had our first antibiotic policy in place back in 2003, so it’s the evolution of a journey we have been on for some time.”