Antibiotics are Everywhere in American Fast Food: Foodie Underground

Antibiotics are Everywhere in Restaurants and Food Chains: Foodie Underground

ColumnIf you eat at a restaurant or fast food chain, you won’t get served a pill of antibiotics with your meal, but big chain restaurants across the U.S. are full of products that are dependent on antibiotics to get them from the factory farm to your table.

We have taken a look at the issue of antibiotic use before. In the U.S., 70 to 80 percent of the antibiotics go to factory farms, and most of the antibiotic use is preventative, called “non-therapeutic” because the conditions at many factory farms are so bad that giving animals antibiotics is simply a way to ensure animals don’t get sick.

Why should we worry if there are antibiotics in our food? First and foremost, because scientists around the globe are warning us about the severe threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria, what some refer to as the issue of “superbugs.”  For World Health Day in 2011, the World Health Organization took on the issue, noting “in the absence of urgent corrective and protective actions, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated.” But that was 2011 and things haven’t really improved.In November, the WHO will hold the first ever World Antibiotic Awareness Week in the hopes of raising awareness and tackling the issue.

There is also a growing group of scientists who are talking about the link between antibiotic use and obesity, the most recent a study focused on children which showed a connection between antibiotics and childhood obesity.

Knowing that so many of the antibiotics in the U.S. go to factory farms, part of solving the problem is putting pressure on not only the farms that are antibiotic dependent, but also the restaurants and food brands that use their products.

Last week Friends of the Earth published a new report that gives a grim look at restaurants and the use of antibiotics in their meat supply. Of the top 25 American restaurant chains, all but five received a failing grade.

Antibiotics and Chain Restaurants

There is some movement, but it’s slow. As you can see from the graphic, the majority of the restaurant chains are right at the bottom. Panera and Chipotle are the only two who publicly state that the majority of their meat and poultry served is raised without antibiotics. McDonald’s has established policies limiting antibiotic use in the chicken that they use, along with an implementation timeline. Other chains like many at the bottom have absolutely no policies in place at all.

Given the ramifications of the overuse of antibiotics, the lack of policies at these huge food chains is significant.

“In order to protect the health and wellbeing of humans and animals alike, the way we perceive animals and how we raise them for food has to shift dramatically,” wrote Cameron Harsh in a blog for Center for Food Safety.

The report is a call to action to consumers to challenge these companies to change their policies. While action from the FDA is crucial in applying stricter guidelines on antibiotic use, we as consumers also need to challenge more restaurants and food chains to rethink and change what products they buy. Want to take action immediately? Sign FOE’s letter calling on Subway to change its policies.

We do have power; we just have to use it.

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Antibiotic Resistance and the Industrial Meat Industry: Foodie Underground

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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at

Image: Mike Mozart

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.