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McDonald's is making a big change to most of its burgers

But the shift won't happen overnight.
Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Sometimes it takes baby steps to inspire major progress — at least that's what McDonald's is counting on in the next few years.

On Wednesday, the international corporation which is one of the world's largest fast food chains with more than 36,000 stores in 100 countries, announced a new policy to phase out the amount of antibiotics administered to its beef supply.

Since the chain offers plenty of double-patty Big Macs and lots of other meaty sandwiches, the new policy will affect a lot of meat producers around the globe.

McDonald's will plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in cows for beef and dairy production over the next four years.Getty Images

McDonald's current policy permits the use of antibiotics in its meat through injections or feed, which is a common practice among commercial livestock farmers globally and helps prevent illnesses spreading among animals in packed living spaces.

In November 2017, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its guidelines on antibiotic usage related to animals being raised for food. The new guidelines recommended "that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals" and "aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their use in animals."

With the rapid rise of antibiotic usage throughout the food production industry, harmful bacteria that can cause deadly illnesses in humans has become resistant to medicine that used to make people feel better. These strains of bacteria are called superbugs.

Dr. Lance B. Price of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (which was established at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University) applauded McDonald's for heeding the WHO's recommendation, calling antibiotic resistance "one of the greatest threats to mankind today."

McDonald's plans to tackle the shift over the next four years in several phases, the first of which will be working with beef suppliers to collect data about the use of antibiotics globally. It will partner with suppliers in its top 10 beef sourcing markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, the U.K and the U.S.) to gather enough information by 2020 to set goals on how to cut antibiotic use in each one.

That being said, the beef and dairy cows in the global restaurant's supply chain will likely not be certified as completely free of antibiotics or organic.

"Our overall approach to responsible use of antibiotics focuses on refining their selection and administration, reducing their use, and ultimately replacing antibiotics with long-term solutions to prevent diseases and protect animal health and welfare," McDonald's said in a statement. "With this in mind, we remain committed to treating animals when needed."

Beginning in 2022, McDonald's says it will issue a public report on the progress it has made.

Recent research has shown that fast food is actually getting pricier, in large part because of industry changes made for health-driven consumers. But a company spokesperson told TODAY Food that McDonald's does not foresee that the minimization of antibiotic usage will raise the cost of its meals. She did point out, however, that franchisees set their own prices so there may be some fluctuation among individual restaurants in the coming years.

So don't worry, those dollar deals and promos for $1 Big Macs and McChickens likely won't be disappearing along with the antibiotics.