McDonald's USA on Wednesday morning announced it would only source chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine, and that it will offer customers milk jugs of low-fat white milk and fat-free chocolate milk from cows that are not treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone.
"Our customers want food that they feel great about eating -- all the way from the farm to the restaurant -- and these moves take a step toward better delivering on those expectations," McDonald's U.S President Mike Andres said in a press statement.
According to the statement, McDonald's has been working closely with farmers for years to reduce the use of antibiotics in its poultry supply.
The new policy supports the company's new Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals, introduced this week, which builds on the company's 2003 global antibiotics policy and includes supplier guidance on the thoughtful use of antibiotics in all food animals.
All of the chicken served at McDonald's approximately 14,000 U.S. restaurants comes from U.S. farms which are working closely with McDonald's to implement the new antibiotics policy to the supply chain within the next two years, the company said.
"McDonald's believes that any animals that become ill deserve appropriate veterinary care and our suppliers will continue to treat poultry with prescribed antibiotics, and then they will no longer be included in our food supply," said Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North America Supply Chain.
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.
"If fewer chickens get sick, then fewer chickens need to be treated with antibiotics that are important in human medicine. We believe this is an essential balance," Gross said.
In response to the announcement, Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., National Chicken Council vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said in a statement that farmers have been working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the past two years to phase out use of medically important antibiotics in animal production for growth promotion purposes.
"While antibiotics that are important to human medicine are minimally used when raising chickens, by December 2016 under FDA guidance, these antibiotics will be labeled for use in food animals only to prevent disease and treat sick birds, and will be used exclusively under the supervision and prescription of a veterinarian," Peterson said.
"Chicken producers are in the business of providing choice, are committed to innovation and producing a wide range of chicken products for a wide range of consumers," she said.
rbST –free milk offerings
In another move, McDonald's U.S. restaurants later this year will offer milk jugs of low-fat white milk and fat-free chocolate milk from cows that are not treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone.
"While no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows, we understand this is something that is important to our customers," Gross said.
All of these actions are the latest steps in McDonald's USA's journey to evolve its menu to better meet the changing preferences and expectations of today's customers, the company statement said.
In addition to the menu sourcing changes, McDonald's USA this week was announced as a founding member of the newly formed U.S. Roundtable on Sustainable Beef. This engagement is a critical step in support of the company's global commitment and effort to source verified sustainable beef.
Updated March 4, 2015, at 10:30 a.m. CT to include NCC comment.