While it’s no secret that fast food isn’t exactly good for you, there are initiatives several chains are taking to make their offerings a bit better.
Last week, Chick-fil-A (America’s favorite fast-food chain) announced it had officially reached its 2014 goal of serving "No Antibiotics Ever" poultry and protein, meaning that none of the meat sold at the more than 2,400 Chick-fil-A restaurants has been treated with any type of antibiotic drug at any stage of the animal's life.
To verify this classification, the United States Department of Agriculture audits suppliers to ensure they are meeting the requirements that live up to this claim.
“We know consumers care about how their food is made and where it comes from, including the use of antibiotics. Because it was important to our customers, it was important to us,” Matt Abercrombie, Chick-fil-A's director of menu and packaging, said in a statement. “Chick-fil-A has always been committed to serving customers delicious food made with high quality ingredients and offering No Antibiotics Ever chicken was the next step. Our goal was to pursue the highest standard and partner with the USDA to verify it.”
The chicken chain — which says it is the largest quick-serve restaurant franchise to implement this change across all U.S. locations — has been serving antibiotic-free chicken since May, but packaging in restaurants won’t reflect this fact until October.
But does this milestone really matter? According to the World Health Organization, yes, it absolutely does.
"If no action is taken today, by 2050, almost all current antibiotics will be ineffective in preventing and treating human disease," stated a 2017 WHO report. And, according to the organization, the costs of these drugs are staggering and would exceed "$100 trillion in terms of national productivity."
In a survey from Consumer Reports conducted in 2018, nearly 60% of Americans surveyed indicated they would be more likely to eat at a restaurant that serves meat raised without antibiotics, while more than half of respondents agreed restaurants should stop serving meat and poultry raised with antibiotics.
Chick-fil-A hasn’t always been at the top its game in this department. In a 2017 Eat This, Not That survey on the relative health of fast-food meat offerings, the chain received a B grade for its poultry. While this meant it ranked among the best of the major fast-food establishments, only 20% of its meat was antibiotic-free at the time.
Today, Chick-fil-A isn’t the only restaurant serving chicken or beef raised without antibiotics. In the 2017 Eat This, Not That survey, both Chipotle and Panera Bread received even higher grades than Chick-fil-A, with each earning an A rating. According to the survey, Chipotle has offered antibiotic-free chicken and beef for years (some of its pork supply is still treated with certain antibiotics), and the chain's founder, Steve Ells, has testified before Congress in favor of reducing antibiotics given to farm animals. At the time, Panera was also already serving chicken raised without antibiotics, and had previously vowed to remove 150 artificial ingredients from its menu by 2017.
According to the WHO, consuming animals raised with the use of antibiotics is not only unhealthy, it will also negatively impact the effectiveness of antibiotics taken by humans to fight serious infections.
Consumer Reports stated that 80% of antibiotics used in this country are given to animals, either to help them grow faster or to prevent diseases in unsanitary conditions. But, it claims, this is contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, meaning if you get sick, you could be in big trouble.
“It may be very difficult to find an antibiotic to help you get well. It may even be impossible,” according to Halloran.
Omnivores and carnivores looking for antibiotic-free meat and poultry may always shop at Whole Foods where, according to Consumer Reports, no meat products (including bacon and other cured meats) are raised with antibiotics. But it can be a bit trickier to know what you’re getting elsewhere.
“We (Consumer Reports) found a few labels that are misleading and not even approved by the government,” Halloran said, after the organization looked at the packaging of several meat brands available at national retailers.
Consumer Reports warned that even chicken labeled as "organic" or “natural” doesn’t always mean the meat is truly free of all antibiotics. Instead, look for labels that state “no antibiotics administered” or “no antibiotics ever."