Costco Joins McDonald's in Phasing Out Antibiotics in Its Chicken

In Depth

Costco yesterday announced it would be following the lead of McDonald’s and other large fast food companies by phasing out the use of antibiotics in chicken. This is actually pretty important.

We’ve talked about antibiotic overuse on Kitchenette before, but let’s have a refresher for those unfamiliar with the topic. One of the many ills of the factory farming industry is that it tends to subject all livestock animals to significant amounts of antibiotics, regardless of whether they’re sick. If you’re wondering why they do this, it’s for two reasons: a) to prevent them from getting sick in the first place, and b) to promote weight gain (fatter animals have more meat and fetch better profits).

Here’s the real problem with this: the overuse of antibiotics in general has been linked to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs.” Antibiotic overuse in humans is bad enough — we’re at the point where many doctors prescribe antibiotics for anything and everything (including to treat viral infections, which is just sheer incompetence). Imagine, though, how much worse it is when most livestock (the source of most of humanity’s great pandemics throughout history) are constantly overexposed to antibiotics. The factory farming industry is thus unintentionally and uncaringly more or less manufacturing its own plagues.

Unfortunately, with the FDA largely defanged and/or not particularly caring, an actual law banning antibiotic overuse in livestock has been a non-starter, and we’re forced to rely on guidelines asking companies to pretty please stop using antibiotics so much, if they wouldn’t mind. Since corporations are generally sociopathic entities, this has largely gone over about as well as you’d expect. A few companies* have gone the opposite way on chicken specifically (Perdue stated last year that they would no longer be sourcing antibiotic chicken), but most have ignored calls to not potentially create pandemics through a combination of negligence and profit motive. Public pressure, however, appears to have now gotten to both Costco and McDonald’s.

Regarding the golden arches, it’s important to note that this only applies to the US McDonald’s market — McDonald’s overseas are still just as likely to get antibiotic-exposed chicken. It’s likewise important to note that this still doesn’t apply to all livestock, only chicken (in McDonald’s case — Costco is phasing-out antibiotic-exposed beef as well). While it’s a good start, the work won’t be done until antibiotic overexposure stops happening entirely. Until then, we’ll all be at risk.

* With the exception of KFC and, perhaps surprisingly, CKE Restaurant Holdings (the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.), the companies listed in that statement are prevaricating pretty hard about whether they buy antibiotic-exposed meat, so take everything there with a hefty shake of salt.

Image via Ken Wolter/Shutterstock.

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