KFC urged to phase out harmful antiobiotics in meat supply

Consumer groups and shareholder investors are calling upon fast-food chain KFC to phase out harmful antibiotic use in its meat supply in order to combat the "catastrophic" global health threat of antibiotic-resistant "superbug" bacteria.

A petition from 350,000 people will be delivered today (10 August) urging KFC’s parent-company Yum Brands to stop the routine use of antibiotics by the companies that supply its poultry. This follows on from news yesterday that Yum Brands investors had filed a shareholder proposal applying pressure on the firm to set policies which would curb the harmful antibiotic use in chicken production.

The appeal forms part of a wider campaign demanding fast-food brands to force their respective meat suppliers to adopt new practices aimed at keeping vital antibiotics working.

Medical experts warn that the continued use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent illness in healthy farm animals could lead to the rise of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as “superbugs”, which are said to represent a “catastrophic threat” to global health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a caution that the world is transitioning toward an era in which many infections would no longer be treatable because of the overuse of antibiotics.

While rival companies such as McDonald’s Corp, Subway and Wendy’s Co have announced plans to make full transitions to chicken raised without antibiotics important to human health, KFC has failed to match the commitment and vows to continue its policy of using antibiotics important to human medicine to maintain chicken health beyond 2017.

“KFC is lagging woefully behind. Diners around the country want KFC to step up,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) food policy advocate Lena Brook, one of the groups delivering petitions to KFC’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

Public bodies such as The Centre for Science in the Public Interest and U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund have also sent representatives to deliver the KFC petitions.

Sustainability bucket

The ongoing antibiotics saga reflects the slow progress made by KFC and its parent-company in matters of supply chain responsibility and its wider sustainability agenda.

Yum Brands – also the parent-company Taco Bell and Pizza Hut – committed to 100% sustainable palm oil for the first time last year following pressure from environmental activists. The announcement was made on the same day as Yum was identified as the least responsible major palm-oil user in a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Taco Bell, which has committed to completely stopping the use of antibiotics important to human medicine in poultry by the first quarter of 2017, has also announced it will source 100% cage-free eggs for its breakfast menu in all U.S. restaurant by the end of 2016.

According to Yum’s latest sustainability report, the company is on course to purchase 100% of paper-based packaging with fibre from responsibly-managed forests and recycled sources by the end of 2020. The firm has also made plans to divert 50% of back-of-house operational waste generated by its restaurants in the US by the end of 2020.

KFC is a member of WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025 which works with companies from across the food and drink sector to drive best practice through the sector and supply chains to create a sustainable and resilient industry. 

George Ogleby

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