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Why Antibiotic-Free McDonalds is Different from Antibiotic-Free Chipotle

The opening line of the news story caught my attention. “McDonald’s is going the way of Chipotle and Panera with their announcement of sourcing only antibiotic-free poultry,” said the newscaster.

My heart sank. Every time a food company adds a label to their hamburger, burrito or soup, farmers are left explaining what the label really means versus what the company wants you to think it means. It’s Marketing 101 and that will never change. But after reading a bit more about McDonalds’ move to antibiotic-free chicken, I discovered this bit of marketing is being served with a healthy dose of reality.

In their own press release, McDonalds recognizes chickens have a right to be healthy and free of illness. Antibiotics are a part of that healthcare plan.

“While McDonald’s will only source chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine, the farmers who supply chicken for its menu will continue to responsibly use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans that helps keep chickens healthy.” 

And thankfully, news sources from the NY Times to Fox News have included this fact in their reporting.

According to the National Chicken Council, “The vast majority of these antibiotics are never used in humans. McDonald’s, veterinarians and animal scientists recognize their importance to minimize the use of those antibiotics that are important in human medicine.” Read their full statement here.

You see there are two classes of antibiotics, but we never hear about that when these food companies make big sweeping statements about a new label. Antibiotic-free isn’t necessarily true. Limited antibiotics may be the better term, referring to that fact that farmers aren’t going to stand by and watch an animal suffer if an antibiotic can make them better.

Livestock farmers already pay close attention to the medicines they use in animals, working closely with veterinarians to determine treatment options when needed. As Katie, an Iowa turkey farmer wrote, “. . .before turning to antibiotics, farmers work hard to prevent disease in other ways. We use vaccines to keep turkeys healthy. We limit exposure to germs by limiting visitors and changing clothes and showering between barns. We give them quality nutrition and clean water, and we also minimize stress on the birds by keeping them in a climate controlled barn.” (Read her full post titled, Does Antibiotic Use On Farms Affect Your Health?)Ineffective antibiotics are no good to anyone. Farmers must steward the technology and science as much as humans need to pay attention to their own medicine cabinets.

By adding the antibiotic-free label, McDonalds is joining ranks with Chik-fil-A, Culvers’, Panera and Chipotle. But unlike the latter two restaurants, McDonalds isn’t demonizing the farmers responsible for raising their food. Instead through their Our Food. Your Questions campaign, people can see exactly how chicken nuggets are made, or meet the farmer who grows potatoes destined to be McDonalds’ french fries.

Chipotle, however, relies on a scarecrow and the ill-conceived Hulu mini-series “Farmed & Dangerous” to push their food with integrity agenda. Have you visited their website lately? I barely made it through a few clicks. Information via animation is not how I prefer my facts. I’ll take them from the people who make their living raising food, harvesting it, processing it and serving it.

Don’t misunderstand my message. McDonalds is a big company that wouldn’t have made such an announcement if a dollar wasn’t to be gained. However, their willingness to deliver the information without an idealistic picture of a backyard chicken coop is greatly appreciated by this farmer. At times, we can find truth in marketing.

For more information on antibiotic use in livestock and antibiotic resistance, please visit these farm gals who raise livestock and are involved in the poultry community.

Andy and Katie Pratt

About Katie

Located in northern Illinois, we grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Dixon. Farming is truly a family affair as we farm alongside Andy’s dad, mom, brother and sister-in-law, and live just a few minutes from both of their home farms. We have two children, Ethan and Nattie.

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