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America’s top burgers chains get an “F” for using beef with antibiotics

22 of the top 25 burger chains in America, including McDonald's, In-N-Out, and Burger King, have received an "F" for antibiotic use. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis & Wikimedia Commons)

22 of the 25 most popular burger chains in America got an “F” on antibiotic use in a new report.

Those are the findings in the fourth annual Chain Reaction scorecard, a report commissioned by six nonprofit groups that was released last Wednesday.

The report looked into the use of antibiotics in beef, a practice that its authors say increase the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotics in beef, the report’s authors say, is making common infections so resistant to treatment that they are becoming a life-threatening problem.

Nearly every burger chain surveyed, from McDonald’s to In-N-Out, had absolutely no policies in place to keep antibiotics out of their burgers.

The Chain Reaction scorecard

Chain Reaction Scorecard

The Chain Reaction scorecard. (U.S. PIRG)

“The growth and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global health crisis,” the report says. “The CDC estimates that each year, at least 23,000 Americans die from resistant infections.”

Hamburgers, the report suggests, are one of the major ways unnecessary antibiotics get into our systems. About 70% of the medical antibiotics sold in the US are put into animals bred to become food, and 43% of those antibiotics go into beef.

The Chain Reaction scorecard surveyed the 25 most popular hamburger chains in America, grading them on their policies for using antibiotic-fed beef. 22 of those chains received a failing grade, meaning that they were doing nothing to keep antibiotics out of their food.

The only burger chains that earned an “A” were Shake Shack and BurgerFi – neither of which operates a location in Utah.

That means that Utahans looking for a burger with fewer antibiotics are going to be left with the one chain that scraped by with a D-: Wendy’s.

But even Wendy’s still uses antibiotics in its beef. They pulled off their slightly better-than-failing score because of their policy of buying 15% of their beef from producers who have reduced their use of the antibiotic tylosin by 20%.

FDA regulations need to change, report authors say

Matthew Wellington

Matthew Wellington (center), director of the U.S. PIRG’s Campaign to Stop the Overuse Of Antibiotics and one of the authors of the report. (U.S. PIRG)

Matt Wellington, the director of the Public Interest Research Group and one of the report’s authors, says that federal policies need to change to keep unnecessary antibiotics out of our food.

Currently, FDA regulations ban meat producers from using antibiotics to help animals grow. Beef producers can, however, use antibiotics for disease prevention, even if the animals aren’t sick.

Wellington says that policy needs to change. “We need to have a strong federal policy that restricts the use of medically important antibiotics only to treat sick animals or to control a verified disease outbreak.”

He and his group, the U.S. PIRG, are calling on people to petition McDonald’s to change their policies, believing that the best way to change the practices industry-wide is to start with America’s biggest burger chain.

“If anybody is going to make this change happen,” Wellington says, “it will be McDonald’s.”

More to the story

Not everybody is worried about eating food with antibiotics.

Dave Noriega and special guest Ethan Millard talked about the Chain Reaction scorecard on KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic. And Dave says he just doesn’t care.

If you missed the show live, you can still hear everything they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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