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McDonald's Will Tell Meat Suppliers to Cut Antibiotics Use Policy Reflects Concerns On Drug-Resistant Germs

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A11152-2003Jun18?language=printer

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2003; Page A03

In response to increasingly dire warnings that widespread use of
antibiotics on U.S. farms is making the drugs less effective for treating
people, the fast-food chain McDonald's is directing some meat suppliers to
stop using antibiotic growth promoters altogether and encouraging others to
cut back.

The policy being announced today, the broadest in the United States,
focuses on the use of antibiotics in animal feed to speed the development
of livestock -- a practice widely seen by researchers as the least
important and most expendable use of important antibiotics.

Because McDonald's is the nation's largest purchaser of beef and among the
largest for chicken and pork, its action will noticeably reduce the amount
of antibiotics being used as growth promoters. Beyond that, consumer and
public health advocates as well as McDonald's executives said they hope the
announcement will mark a turning point in the way U.S. farmers raise
animals.

"This is a highly significant policy and change," said Rebecca Goldburg of
Environmental Defense, an advocacy group that participated in McDonald's
review of its practices. "This policy is global and it goes beyond anything
we have seen from other companies."

Linda Tollefson, deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration's
Center for Veterinary Medicine, who also reviewed McDonald's proposal,
said: "When a very large and international company does something like
this, it's an important step. They will set the tone in the marketplace."

According to the Animal Health Institute, which represents manufacturers of
drugs for animal use, almost 22 million pounds of antibiotics were used on
farms in 2001. That group estimates that 13 percent to 17 percent of that
total is for growth promotion, but the Union of Concerned Scientists, an
advocacy group, has said its research shows that more than 50 percent of
the total could be considered growth promotion.

The McDonald's policy will prohibit its direct suppliers, which mainly
provide chicken, from using 24 growth promoters that are closely related to
antibiotics used in human medicine. The firm, in deciding which independent
farmers will supply its beef, chicken and pork, will consider it a
"favorable factor" if the supplier avoids growth promoters.

The policy will be effective worldwide by the end of 2004 and will require
suppliers to keep records and submit to regular audits. Public health and
FDA officials said the audits will make the program considerably stronger
than others announced by fast-food competitors and chicken producers in
recent years.

Overuse of antibiotics on farms and to treat human ailments has made some
old-line antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline much less
effective than they once were. Concern that the life cycle of newer
antibiotics called fluoroquinolones would be similarly cut short has
spurred doctors and public health officials to action.

The use of small but regular amounts of antibiotics in animal feed -- which
helps the animals grow quickly -- inevitably leads bacteria in the animals
to evolve into forms that are immune to the antibiotics' effects. Those
resistant bacteria can be transferred to people, who will not be helped by
related antibiotics they might need should they become sick.

Efforts to reduce antibiotic use have focused on growth promoters because
speeding the growth of farm animals is not considered a high-priority use.
The European Union voted to ban the practice in 1998.

The FDA has also sought to reduce overuse of antibiotics, but the effort
has had little effect on U.S. farms. An FDA effort to ban an animal
antibiotic called Baytril, a fluoroquinolone related to the human
antibiotic Cipro, triggered a lengthy regulatory appeals process by Bayer
Corp.

Participants in the McDonald's effort offered their model as a way to make
progress.

"They brought together all the stakeholders and looked at the science and
came up with a policy that will encourage the sustainable use of
antibiotics on the farm," said Dennis Erpelding, manager for corporate
affairs of Elanco Animal Health, one of the five largest producers of drugs
for animals.

The McDonald's policy accepts the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals
and to prevent and control disease outbreaks on farms. Some activists have
said that could allow farmers to continue using growth promoters, which do
not require a prescription, under the pretext of disease control and
prevention.

Overall antibiotic use on European farms has dropped considerably since a
ban on growth promoters began to be phased in there, and resistance to
antibiotics has declined. But reports show antibiotics are being used more
frequently to treat sick animals.

The Animal Health Institute, in a statement by Vice President Ron Phillips,
said there is no scientific basis for the McDonald's policy. "Europe, as
the result of a non-science based policy, has removed the use of
antibiotics as growth promoters, and as a result has sparked a dramatic
increase in animal disease and the use of antibiotics to treat that
disease," he said.

McDonald's has been an industry leader on issues such as animal welfare and
recycling after coming under concerted public pressure.

"We would love to be a catalyst for change industry-wide on antibiotic
use," said Robert Langert, McDonald's senior director for social
responsibility. "People have been arguing about this all night and day, but
now we're taking some practical steps and expect we'll make some real
progress."

 

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