A new report and scorecard is sounding the alarm on the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry served at America's top restaurant chains. The paper, "Chain Reaction," written by several public interest groups, grades the 25 largest fast food and fast casual restaurants in the country on their antibiotic policies and the transparency with which they implement them.
All but five of the companies received a failing grade.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named antibiotic resistance as one of the top five health threats facing the U.S. Each year, more than 2 million people across the country get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result. Experts say widespread use of antibiotics in the food supply one of the factors contributing to the development of drug-resistant superbugs.
The World Health Organization cautioned in a 2014 report: "A post-antibiotic era -- in which common infections and minor injuries can kill -- far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century."
"Overusing antibiotics in meat production helps to create drug-resistant superbugs -- our nation's largest chain restaurants can be part of the problem, or part of the solution," Dr. David Wallinga, Senior Health Officer with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the organizations that authored the new report, said in a statement.
After assessing the policies of the 25 fast food and restaurant chains, the groups found that only Panera and Chipotle were worthy of "A" grades, as both restaurant chains have a wide variety of meat offerings that do not use antibiotics.
Chick-fil-A, which earned a "B" rating, has policies limiting its use of antibiotics in the chicken it serves and has pledged to be 100 percent antibiotic-free by 2019.
Dunkin Donuts and McDonald's both received "C" grades. Though Dunkin Donuts has a policy limiting antibiotic use in the meat it serves, the researchers found the company does not have a timeline for achieving that goal. Earlier this year, McDonald's announced that within two years it would only serve chicken raised without use of medically important antibiotics in its U.S. locations. But the company has not disclosed how much of its chicken currently meets this standard and has not extended this policy to the beef and pork served in its restaurants.
The report also points out that many other popular chains have either no disclosed policy on antibiotic use in their meat and poultry suppliers or have policies that fail to phase out the routine use of antibiotics.
These chains, all of which received an "F" on the scorecard, include Applebee's, Arby's, Burger King, Chili's, Dairy Queen, Denny's, Domino's, IHOP, Jack in the Box, KFC, Little Caesars, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse Grill and Bar, Papa John's Pizza, Pizza Hut, Sonic, Starbucks, Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy's.
Research for the report, including the survey of the top 25 chains, was compiled by Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Keep Antibiotics Working and Center for Food Safety.
The paper calls for all fast food and fast casual restaurant chains to take steps to reduce the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry they serve, and suggests that if successful brands like Chipotle can do it, others can too.
"U.S. restaurant chains must take responsibility for how the meat they sell is contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistance." said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. "The majority of meat served at Panera and Chipotle is produced without routine use of antibiotics, and Chick-fil-A and McDonald's have committed to limiting antibiotics use in their chicken. We are urging other major chains, such as Subway and Burger King, to take immediate action in their meat supply chain to address the urgent problem of antibiotic resistance."