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McDonald's to stop using chicken raised on controversial antibiotics

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Posted at 10:59 AM, Mar 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-04 14:33:47-05

If antibiotic-raised chickens were keeping a consumer from enjoying Chicken McNuggets, the excuse no longer stands.

McDonald's announced new food practices on Wednesday, including that the company will stop using chickens raised on controversial antibiotics that have long been feared to cause health risks in humans. But the poultry used by the company will still be treated with other antibiotics deemed not "important in human medicine."

"The farmers who supply chicken for [McDonald's] menu will continue to responsibly use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans that helps keep chickens healthy."

The controversy over human antibiotics treating animals used for food dates back to the 1970s, when the American Food and Drug Administration investigated the notion that those drugs may help create bacteria that would be resistant to the drugs. According to a 2014 story from The Washington Post, the science behind the fear was never conclusive and farmers were largely against regulation because the antibiotics helped animals grow faster and remain healthy.

The ionophores that will continue to be used by McDonald's chicken farmers have not been a source of much controversy. According to Beef Magazine, the nation's top publication on cattle farming, ionophores don't appear to contribute "to the development of antibiotic resistance to important human drugs." An official from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association gave his approval to ionophores in the article.

Safe food activists praised the company's decision. "The announcement ... is excellent news for consumers," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a statement Thursday.

"This move should have major reverberations throughout the meat and poultry industry," DeWaal wrote. "I hope that McDonald's will now commit to using beef and pork from animals not treated with important antibiotics."

McDonald's — which operates about 14,000 restaurants in the United States — said in a press release that the new chicken policy will be implemented within the next two years.

The company also announced that later this year, it will offer milk from cows that haven't been treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.

"While no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows, we understand this is something that is important to our customers," said Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North America Supply Chain.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.