You are here

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You


Drugs in Fast Food

The United States’ food report card is in, and it does not look good at all. 80% failed on sourcing practices and antibiotics usage. Only 5 of the major food chains received a “C” or above.

Why should we be concerned? Since the 1950s, feeding farm animals antibiotics has become standard. The problem with this is the overdosage of antibiotics which causes resistances and could cause a disease outbreak as a result. Reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) state, “Simply using antibiotics creates resistance. These drugs should only be used to manage infections.” However, large scale food suppliers continue to use antibiotics to stimulate animal growth and prevent diseases caused by poor living conditions and poor diet. 70% of medically important antibiotics are sold to the livestock sector and this has seen a 20% increase in the past 4 years. Among 8 billion chickens, 89 million heads of cattle and other livestock, and 66 million pigs, over 32 million pounds of antibiotics were consumed. This is 8 times what humans use.

As a result of poor raising habits, we now see 2 million antibiotic resistant infections, and the economic cost is at 55 billion dollars. Also we have 23,000 antibiotic resistant deaths per year. Ignorance can not be used as an excuse. Warnings started as early as 1998 when the Institute of Medicine collected data on the flow of salmonella clones from farm animals through food to humans. By 2013, the CDC sent out a warning that, “up to half of the antibiotic use in humans and much of the use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” The World Health Organization has stated that “a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections can kill, is a very real possibility for the 21st century.” Rise of antibiotic-resistant infections was #3 on the CDC’s top global threats in 2014.

Authors of the first annual “Chain Reaction” report card for the top 25 fast food and fast casual restaurants are, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Keep Antibiotics Working, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, and Food Animal Concerns Trust. The methodology was in three parts: 1) Does the company have an antibiotics policy? The score is based on the quality of the policy and the number of meats the policy covers. 2) What is the company’s implementation strategy? The score is based on the estimated availability of meats produced without antibiotic routine. 3) How transparent is the company’s policy? The score is based on third party audits, online policy, and survey response.

So, who were the 5 restaurants who passed with a “C” or better? Chipotle and Panera snagged A’s. Chic-fil-a got a B, and Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonalds got by with C’s. Two-thirds of surveyed companies refused to provide any written response. Sixteen surveyed companies failed to provide any basic information regarding antibiotics in their food. Only two of the companies have policies of offering “an array of meat options produced without the routine use of antibiotics.”

In grocery stores, 88% of consumers are aware of the use of antibiotics in meats, but only 60% seem to be concerned about the issue. 86% of shoppers believe they should be able to purchase antibiotic free meats at their local stores. 60% are willing to pay $.05 more per pound for antibiotic-free meat, while 40% are willing to pay $1.00 more per pound for antibiotic-free meats. At present, it costs 10% to 15% more to raise chickens without antibiotics. This results in the consumer paying $2.00 more per pound for antibiotic-free chicken meat. However, the costs should begin to even out as the market increases and more farmers switch to antibiotic-free animal raising. Chicken seems to be leading the way, with the top three producers having promised to switch to antibiotic-free farming by 2017 (Tyson), 2018 (Pilgrim’s), and already over halfway there (Purdue). 


Veronica Russell is a blogger for She adores creating articles and visual graphics on different aspects of healthcare and medicine.