By Mara Lilley, Senior Campaigns Officer, ShareAction

McDonald’s Corporation just announced that it plans to phase out the antibiotics most important to human health from its global chicken supply, by the end of 2018.

This is huge.

Leading restaurants and fast-food chains have, to date, failed to adequately address the impact of their business on rising antibiotics resistance across the world, as well as the operational risk this exposes their business to. McDonald’s commitment represents another significant step towards responsible antibiotics use, putting the company at a competitive advantage over its industry peers.

McDonald’s new global commitment to cut out medically important antibiotics from its global chicken supply is a big deal and demonstrates real progress.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that we are heading towards a ‘post-antibiotics era,’ as a result of the overuse these finite resources. Until relatively recently, a significant factor in rising antibiotics resistance had been overlooked: the livestock system and our rising demand for cheap and quickly-produced meat. This has resulted in the shocking reality that 70% of antibiotics in the US and almost 50% in the UK are not used in human medicine, but in livestock production. Included within these figures are antibiotics which have been identified by the WHO as ‘medically important to human medicine.’ While McDonald’s new commitment doesn’t cover all of these, it does cover antibiotics which have been characterised by the WHO as the most critically important.

With vast supply chains sourcing food products from across the globe, fast-food companies – and our insatiable appetite for the odd hamburger or two – are in a unique market position to drive positive change on this issue. Yet ShareAction’s 2016 research into ten leading restaurant and fast-food companies found that none had in place comprehensive policies outlining their approach to ensuring the responsible use of antibiotics in their meat supply. Which is why McDonald’s new global commitment is a big deal and demonstrates real progress.

This win is a testament to investors, civil society and savers keeping the pressure up and combining tactics to unlock the system for sustainable food.

Investors, aware of the significant financial risk this presents, have been engaging with leading restaurants – including McDonald’s – on how they are managing this issue across their global supply. The link between cheap meat and antibiotics resistance is also taking more of a centre stage on the consumer radar. Alongside investor action, almost 9,000 ShareAction supporters wrote to the CEO of McDonald’s calling on the company to ban the overuse of antibiotics from their global meat supply; SumOfUs launched a sister petition which, in end resulted in, 140,000 individuals taking action.

McDonald’s global commitment on chicken is testament to the actors involved in keeping the pressure up – investors, civil society and savers – and shows how a combination of tactics can unlock change for a sustainable food system. But McDonald’s shouldn’t stop there, the company needs to be demonstrating that it’s affording the same degree of seriousness to its pork and beef supply. After all, antibiotics resistance is a global issue that can’t be limited to one geography or species.

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Thanks Mara! To learn more about our campaign to limit the use of medically important antibiotics in meat supply, click here.