Report Card on Fast Food Restaurants

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Cheating catches up with you.

We’re seeing that now in how we raise food animals – cows, chickens, pigs, and turkeys – on our factory farms. We routinely feed them antibiotics not because they’re sick, but to speed their growth (thus saving costs) and to prevent disease outbreaks (illness can spread like wildfire between the animals because of their densely packed living conditions). To understand how wrong this practice is, imagine if we raised children this way: sure, we’re different species, but the biological effect would nonetheless be the same.

And the biological effect is this: antibiotics kill off susceptible bacteria in the animals, leaving the resistant bacteria to thrive: they’re now reproducing and filling the niches formerly occupied by the now dead bugs. The problem for us is they don’t stay there: these antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the guts of the animals begin to move through the environment and enter other animals and people. Result: the CDC says a few million Americans become severely infected with these “superbugs” and at least 23,000 of them die – each year. Which raises a troubling question: if we agree this is the case, then are we not knowingly engaging in the manufacture of disease?

Yet despite this knowledge, and unlike in Europe, US and Canadian governments refuse to put a stop to it. To fill the breach, public interest organizations have banded together to put pressure on 25 fast food restaurant chains to stop buying meat from producers who misuse antibiotics. These chains are singled out because they’re huge buyers of meat and poultry; McDonalds, for example, is the largest buyer of beef in the United States. The explicit threat is that consumers and shareholders will take their dollars to restaurants that don’t put the public health at risk.

And so each year a report card is prepared that ranks America’s 25 largest fast food chains on their antibiotic policies. Released yesterday, here it is. You know what to do.

 

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