KFC commits to protect antibiotics: A major victory for consumers and our health

Even in the best of times, positive social change can be hard to come by. That is why the latest victory for consumers and our health is such welcome news.

The overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms is pushing us ever closer to a post-antibiotic era. Imagine the next time you get sick with an infection, the antibiotics prescribed for you no longer work. Imagine routine surgeries, chemotherapy, and even childbirth becoming much more dangerous than they are today.

A little more than a year ago U.S. PIRG kicked off our campaign calling on KFC to do its part to save antibiotics, or in twitter speak #KFCsaveABX.

Last week the fried chicken giant announced that by the end of 2018, all chicken purchased by the company in the U.S. will be raised without antibiotics important to human medicine.

This is very good news indeed and has the potential to be a game-changer.

KFC deserves our thanks and applause for doing the right thing. Of course, we also did all we could to give the company the proper encouragement along the way.

In the last year, hundreds of thousands of consumers gave KFC that encouragement by signing a petition, calling KFC headquarters, or tweeting at KFC to urge the company to stop the overuse of antibiotics in its meat supply chain. Medical professionals all over the country also called on the chicken icon to move toward more responsible antibiotic use.

For more details on our campaign check out this timeline.

KFC’s new commitment on antibiotics is a testament to consumer engagement, and more importantly it demonstrates the gravity of our situation when it comes to antibiotic overuse.

As the company’s own website states: “The threat of resistance to human antibiotics is a rising public health concern in the U.S. As such, offering chicken raised without medically important antibiotics is the next step in our food promise to our customers.”

Already, at least 23,000 Americans die each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections, and estimates show those numbers could skyrocket if we don’t stem the overuse of antibiotics now.

KFC’s action to help stem the growing health threat of antibiotic resistant superbugs is especially important given the current political climate. Federal action on most issues moves along at a grinding pace — too slowly given the threat and consequences of a post-antibiotic future. That’s why we and our allies turned to the marketplace, where we could harness the power of consumers to influence the behavior of companies sensitive to their public image and brand.

KFC’s action to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics in its chicken supply will help preserve these foundations of modern medicine for the future.

The fried chicken giant is the largest chicken-on-the-bone quick service restaurant in the U.S. Given its stature as a major chicken buyer in the U.S. and the nature of its supply chain, KFC’s commitment could make chicken raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics the new norm in U.S. chicken production. That would be a major shift.

We’ve made real strides in phasing routine antibiotic use out of our meat supply. But, our work is far from over. Although the U.S. chicken industry is heading in the right direction, there has not been nearly as much progress in the pork and beef sectors.

If we’re going to truly protect antibiotics, we need action across the entire meat industry to no longer misuse antibiotics on animals that are not sick.

We need more marketplace actors to follow Subway’s lead in phasing antibiotic use out of their entire meat supply chain, as they committed to back in 2015.

We need our lawmakers in states across the country to follow California’s lead in passing legislation that restricts the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals or to control a verified disease outbreak.

We will stay on the case. For now, I want to thank KFC’s leadership for addressing this issue. It is a major win for anybody who might someday depend on antibiotics to get well or even save their lives — i.e. everybody.

Special thanks go to our coalition partners NRDC, Consumers Union, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Food Animal Concerns Trust for their part in this victory. I look forward to working together to continue to move the marketplace away from overusing our life-saving medicines.

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