Environmental Defense Praises Action on Antibiotic Resistance

Environmental Defense, the organization that worked with McDonald's to replace wasteful polystyrene foam sandwich clamshells with lightweight and recycled paper packaging, today praised the McDonald's, Wendy's and Popeye's restaurant chains for their decision to end the purchase of poultry treated with fluoroquinolone antibiotics, as reported in the February 10 edition of The New York Times. In addition to action by the restaurants, the Times also reports that Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms and Foster Farms say they have voluntarily taken most or all of the antibiotics out of what they feed healthy chickens.

Cipro is a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. A variant of Cipro called Baytril is used to treat chicken and turkey flocks for certain ailments.

Considerable medical evidence shows the effectiveness of fluoroquinolones for treating humans is being compromised by its use in factory farms. These antibiotics have been used on people since 1986, but bacterial resistance to them was negligible until they were used in poultry in 1995. By 1999, resistance to these antibiotics in the food-borne pathogen Campylobacter, a type of disease-causing bacteria commonly found in chicken, had jumped to more than 14%. The Food and Drug Administration proposed banning Baytril in 2000, but its manufacturer, Bayer, has refused to comply.

"Today's news shows environmental and business leadership from the poultry and restaurant industries. Other food companies should move quickly to follow their lead and help stop the growth of antibiotic resistance," said Environmental Defense executive director Fred Krupp. "Antibiotics are life-saving wonder drugs; these companies are showing good corporate citizenship by taking a critical first step to help keep these medications strong and effective."

"Cancer patients, premature babies, persons with HIV/AIDS and seniors often depend on antibiotics for their very survival," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Karen Florini, "and just about everyone benefits from the availability of effective antibiotics. Ending the use of Baytril to treat illness in chickens and turkeys should help maintain the effectiveness of similar antibiotics for people, but the use of other antibiotics in healthy farm animals needs to be dramatically cut."

Environmental Defense also applauded the news that Tyson, Perdue, and Foster Farms have stated that they have reduced their use of medically important antibiotics for certain purposes in chickens, as also reported in The New York Times, although the group cautioned that terminology in this area can be confusing. "We look forward to obtaining more information on the new practices of Tyson, Perdue, and Foster Farms. If these changes are leading to a significant decrease in the use of medically important antibiotics, that's welcome news indeed — and other poultry and livestock producers should adopt similar changes," said Florini.

Over a decade ago, Environmental Defense and McDonald's first worked together to replace polystyrene foam sandwich clamshells with paper wraps and light-weight recycled boxes, replace bleached with unbleached recycled paper carry-out bags, and made dozens of other packaging improvements. These changes resulted in the elimination of over 150,000 tons of packaging, the purchase of more than $3 billion worth of products made from recycled materials, and the recycling of more than one million tons of corrugated cardboard.

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