McDonald’s moves to cut antibiotics in Irish beef

Buying power of fast food chain means policy will result in changes for global meat industry

McDonald’s has committed to reducing the levels of antibiotics in its beef products, including those sourced in Ireland.

The fast food chain is developing “pilot tests” to measure the level of antibiotics in products from its top 10 beef sourcing markets, including Ireland. Based on the data from those pilot tests, the fast food chain said it will establish antibiotic reduction targets by the end of 2020 and that it will report against these targets from 2022.

“McDonald’s believes antibiotic resistance is a critical public health issue and we take seriously our unique position to use our scale for good to continue to address this challenge,” said a McDonald’s spokesperson. “That is why we are announcing an ambitious new policy to reduce the overall use of antibiotics important to human health, as defined by the World Health Organization.”


McDonald’s said the new beef policy will affect 85 per cent of its global supply chain and is intended to reduce the use of antibiotics. Because of the chain’s massive buying power, the plan has the potential to change practices for the overall beef industry.


"This policy marks the latest step on our journey since we first developed a position on responsible antibiotics use in 2003 and follows our continued efforts to use our scale for good," the spokesperson told The Irish Times.

As consumers have grown increasingly concerned with how their food is made, they have demanded a number of changes, including antibiotic-free meat and poultry. Scientists say the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is behind the growing global problem of antimicrobial resistance.

The chain has been on a mission to clean up its menu since Steve Easterbrook took the helm in 2015. In September, it said it would get rid of some preservatives and fake colours from its burgers. It switched to fresh, instead of frozen, beef for its quarter pounders this year, and removed artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets in 2016.


Because of its scale, with about 37,000 restaurants worldwide, McDonald’s purchasing changes – even small ones – can have major ramifications for the industry. When it cut margarine from its Egg McMuffins, it sent suppliers into overdrive to make and ship millions of pounds of butter across the United States.

The announcement includes three benchmarks: measuring current antibiotics usage in its top 10 beef-sourcing countries, setting reduction targets for medically important antibiotics by the end of 2020, and requiring that suppliers report progress in meeting those targets starting in 2022.

Antibiotics are frequently used in animal agriculture for two main reasons: to prevent the spread of disease and to promote growth. Based on available data, about 70 per cent of antibiotics in the US are used in animal agriculture, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

McDonald’s already committed to removing antibiotics important to human health from its chicken supply chains in 2015 and met that goal in 2016, ahead of schedule. - Additional reporting by Bloomberg