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Jan Lee headshot

Chipotle, Panera Receive an A for Antibiotic Use

Words by Jan Lee

What's in your steak? A consortium of environmental and health organizations want you to know.

This week, Friends of the Earth released an unusual report, entitled Chain Reaction, that looks not at our store-bought products, but what we get when we order that hamburger, steak, rich chicken soup or other meat-based meal in a restaurant.

The organization's aim wasn't to expose excessive sodium levels or cholesterol, but something more insidious that we often don't think about when we order that plate of lasagna at a sit-down restaurant or a quick roast beef sandwich at a drive-up window.

"Seventy to 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in factory farms," says Friends of the Earth. That's a staggering percentage that FOE says is heightening our risk for developing antibiotic resistance.
On Tuesday, the group, which includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Food Safety and Consumers Union, as well as more than 40 other medical, environmental and consumer organizations, sent a letter to all of the major restaurant chains in the United States urging them to drop antibiotic-treated meat.
"On behalf of millions of concerned citizens, we urge you to commit to serving meat and poultry in your restaurants that is raised without the routine use of antibiotics," the group stated. At the top of the issue are the American Medical Association, American Pediatrics Association and the World Health Organization warnings that increased exposure to antibiotics through food sources is heightening people's risk to uncontrolled infections.
The group has called on companies to develop a multi-pronged strategy to remove antibiotics from their products by announcing publicly that it will prohibit the use of antibiotics, particularly those that are rated "medically necessary" for human treatments, and tell its suppliers that using antibiotics in food stocks is no longer acceptable.
To better inform consumers about the extent of this problem, the organization developed its own report card and rated 25 major restaurants on the availability of antibiotic-free meat products and their ongoing efforts to curb the use of antibiotic-treated meat .
And the group didn't just look at fast-food chains. It also included companies better known for their casual-dining brands, such as Olive Garden, Applebee's, Outback Steakhouse and Grill, and IHOP.
The results were revealing. Twenty restaurants received failing grades for failing to have any clear policies on antibiotics in their products, or failing to demonstrate an effort to phase out the use of antibiotics in foods. Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's received "C" grades for their announced efforts to remove antibiotics from their food chains; Chick-fil-A received a slightly better passing grade for further efforts, and Chipotle and Panera Bread scored top grades for demonstrating an effort to heed health warnings.
The 38-page report also notes that, according to Denny's, its beef comes from Australia and New Zealand, where approximately 60 percent of the meat is produced without added hormones. Because the group couldn't verify the information, however, this was left out of the scoring.
The report also gave honorable mentions to a number of smaller companies that didn't make the list of the top 25 US restaurant chains. These included Carl's Jr., Shake Shack, Good Times Burger and Farmer Boy, which have developed their own antibiotic-free policies and/or are working to rid these drugs from their products. Some also offer meat from organically-raised animals.
FOE notes that there are positive changes afoot in several parts of the meat industry. Tyson Foods, Pilgrim Pride and Perdue Farms are among several producers that have already committed to raising livestock without added hormones. According to one representative for Pilgrim Pride, the incentive is simple: "We’re seeing quite a big growth in antibiotic-free product. As consumers and as the population is looking more for that, the industry needs to follow."
Image credits: 1) Flickr/Lindsay Attaway; 2) Flickr/Chain Report authors
Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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