McDonald's takes antimicrobial stance

Company asks suppliers to phase out animal growth-promoting antimicrobials; veterinarians reply
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On June 19, McDonald's Corporation announced plans that call for their suppliers worldwide to phase out animal growth-promoting antimicrobials that are also used in human medicine, in an effort to stem antimicrobial resistance. The company set standards for their direct meat suppliers and encouraged indirect suppliers to take similar steps.

"McDonald's is asking producers that supply over 2.5 billion pounds of chicken, beef, and pork annually to take actions that will ultimately help protect public health," said Frank Muschetto, senior vice president of Worldwide Supply Chain Management for the company.

The stance
McDonald's policy, called "Global Policy on Antibiotics Use in Food Animals," was developed with a number of organizations, including McDonald's suppliers Tyson Foods and Cargill, Elanco Animal Health, and Environmental Defense, an environmental advocacy organization.

Under the policy, direct suppliers must certify annual compliance with the policy by maintaining records of antimicrobial use and making these records available to McDonald's for audit and review. Direct suppliers are those dedicated to McDonald's business that directly control the stages of animal production where antimicrobial use decisions are made. Most of the company's worldwide poultry supply falls into this category.

By offering incentives, McDonald's policy also encourages indirect suppliers to take similar steps to eliminate growth-promoting antimicrobials and to reduce other antimicrobial use. Indirect suppliers include most of the company's beef and pork suppliers.

Veterinarians respond
The AVMA saw this situation coming. Months ago, the AVMA Executive Board had discussed the fact that activist organizations were pressuring food restaurant and retail chains to remove certain antimicrobials from use in food-producing animals. Board members also recognized that some organizations were pressuring Congress to pass legislation banning certain therapeutic and growth promotant uses of antimicrobials in food animals, ignoring Food and Drug Administration regulatory jurisdiction.

Given this, in May, the Executive Board approved a new position statement on the approval and availability of antimicrobials for use in food producing animals, as put forth by the Steering Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance. The AVMA's position statement reads as follows:

Approval and Availability of Antimicrobials for Use in Food Producing Animals
The AVMA recognizes that it is essential to maintain the confidence of U.S. consumers in the safety of their food supply. The role of the Food and Drug Administration to use generally accepted science supported by substantial data to evaluate product safety and efficacy is central to this process.

The AVMA supports a national, coordinated, and appropriate response to the issue of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria that includes an open or public FDA approval process that is rigorous and that includes an assessment of food safety to approve animal health products for use in animals. The AVMA supports the science-based processes of the FDA in the regulation of antimicrobials for their intended use in food animals or when used in accordance with the AMDUCA regulations.

The AVMA discussed this policy and other pertinent AVMA policies with McDonald's.

The same day that McDonald's made its announcement, the Coalition for Animal Health, of which AVMA is a member, immediately responded, saying, "in this market-based, rather than science-based policy, the products McDonald's is asking suppliers not to use have been subjected to the Food and Drug Administration approval process and proven to be safe." The coalition, which also includes the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, Federation of Animal Science Societies, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and National Turkey Federation among others, cautioned against actions not grounded in science. The coalition pointed to Europe as an example of why such action could cause damage.

Since 1997, the European Union has been gradually whittling away the number of antimicrobials used as growth promotants in food animals. In 1997, they banned avoparcin, a relative of vancomycin. In subsequent years, they have progressively phased out the use of all antimicrobials as growth promoters. The four remaining antimicrobials used as growth promoters—monensin sodium, salinomycin sodium, avilamycin, and flavophospholipol—will most likely be phased out by 2006. And what has happened?

The Coalition for Animal Health states that as a result of this non-science-based policy, "many European countries have documented a dramatic increase in animal disease and the use of antimicrobials to treat that disease." In other words, phasing out such use has done more harm than good.

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners, which was not part of the coalition at press time, has similar worries. "We are concerned about McDonald's or anyone making decisions or posing requirements that are not science-based," said Dr. Jim Jarrett, executive vice president of the AABP. "This is one of those issues that seems to be more emotional than science-based."

Only time will tell how the McDonald's situation will play out and whether it will cause a domino effect, with other fast food companies following suit. For now, however, the Coalition for Animal Health says it will continue to work to ensure the safe and effective use of antimicrobials in animal health. "We look forward to working with McDonald's and other companies to implement policies that are consistent with the best available science and protect both animal and human health."