On Friday, April 7, KFC announced its plans to stop serving chicken raised with antibiotics crucial for disease prevention in humans.
An estimated 2,000 poultry farms around the U.S. would have to modify its feeding practices in order to accommodate KFC’s policy change.
A broad anti-antibiotics campaign has steadily gained momentum in the country, which has pressured the food industry giants to deliver healthier food in a sustainable manner.
In fact, most of KFC’s direct competition—McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chick fil-A, and even corporate cousins Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell—have already announced target commitments to serving chickens with reduced or no antibiotics, but often limited to their boneless chicken items.
However, KFC contends that it is the first major fast food chain to aim for going antibiotic-free for bone-in AND boneless chicken offerings.
The fried chicken chain set a target time of December 2018 to implement its change across more than 4,000 locations.
Not just chicken
The livestock industry often avails antibiotics to produce chickens with faster and higher meat yields, often in unsanitary conditions.
With antibiotic use, it currently takes only two months for a chicken to grow its full size.
However, over time, wide scale human consumption of low-dosage antibiotics leads to antibiotics resistance in vast populations across the globe, which many public health advocates argue is a looming epidemic.
“Antibiotic resistance makes treatment of bacterial infections harder, increases how long people are sick, and makes it more likely that patients will die,” according to a report by Chain Reaction II report a group of nonprofit organizations.
For instance, a recent C. diff epidemic in Britain led to “serious failings in inflectional control”, the cause of which, a scientific study found, was the overuse of antibiotics, rendering patients resistant to life-saving drugs.
Other experiments also show that early exposure to antibiotics can lead to long-term negative effects, like childhood and adult obesity.
In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration issued a guidance to the pharmaceutical industry, urging drugmakers to voluntarily stop selling antibiotics to farmers looking for higher yields.
A follow-up study released by the FDA found that sales of antibiotics in food-producing animals kept increasing, although at a slower rate.
Other findings were more alarming. Ninety-seven percent of the antibiotic drugs that were used on animals would require a doctor’s prescriptions for human consumption, but they were all acquired OTC (over-the-counter) for animal consumption.
Last year, a coalition of public health advocates, along with the Center for Food Safety and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, gathered more than 125,000 signatures on a petition that called for 16 fast food chains, including KFC, to eliminate the practice of serving foods containing antibiotics fed farm animals.
Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumer Union said “Antibiotics should only be used to treat disease and not wasted on healthy livestock to make them grow faster or survive filthy conditions on factory farms. It’s time for all fast food restaurants to help ensure antibiotics keep working by rejecting meat and poultry suppliers who misuse these vital drugs.”
KFC sells 65 million buckets of chicken a year.
The chain, owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc., said it is also in the process of removing artificial colors and flavors from certain menu items by the end of 2018.
Full court press
While the chain restaurants may advertise their changes as watershed moments for the public, there is no mistaking the reason behind the change: persistent pressure from health advocacy groups. Oversight makes the food industry healthier.
Your health remains in your own hands. Next time you are out for a quick bite, demand a healthy meal.