Restaurant report card: What’s in your fast food meat?

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24:  Fast-food restaurants signs line a street July 24, 2008 in the South Los Angeles area of Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles City Council committee has unanimously approved year-long moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area, mostly in South Los Angeles, pending approval by the full council and the signature of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to make it the law. South LA has the highest concentration of fast-food restaurants of the city, about 400, and only a few grocery stores. L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry proposed the measure to try to reduce health problems associated with a diet high in fast-food, like obesity and diabetes, which plague many of the half-million people living there.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
What goes into the fast food meat you eat?
01:22 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A new report on antibiotics in fast food gave 14 US chains passing grades, while 11 failed

Panera and Chipotle led the pack for a third year in a row

CNN  — 

Our favorite fast foods could come back to bite us, according to a report released Wednesday – and it’s not just the extra calories.

The new report grades the 25 largest US fast food chains on where they stand on antibiotics.

The results are a mixed bag: For the third year in a row, the only two As were awarded to Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread. More companies passed this year than ever before.

But 11 of the top 25 chains received an F, having taken “no (discernible) action to reduce use of antibiotics in their supply chains.”

Nine companies didn’t respond to the survey at all, just like last year.

“These drugs have historically been given to animals that are not sick, to accelerate weight gain and prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary industrial farming conditions,” wrote the authors, who come from six public interest groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union and the Center for Food Safety.

While regulations and consumer pressure have encouraged some chains to cut back on the use of antibiotics, some experts worry it’s not enough to stave off development of “superbugs” that can’t be killed by some of our current medicines. These bugs may get into our meat and produce.

“If we don’t rein in this pattern of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, what we will see is half a century of medical progress reversed,” said Lena Brook, a food policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She has served as a lead expert on the report for each of the past three years.

Despite nearly half of restaurants receiving a failing grade, this is an improvement over the 16 that failed last year, the authors said.

“It’s a rapid shift that we’ve seen in just a few short years, and that leaves me really hopeful,” Brook said.

Who passed, and who didn’t?

A total of 14 fast food and “fast casual” chains earned passing grades, a boost over nine last year. There were only five the year before that, in 2015.

“It is important to note, however, that while remarkable progress has been made to reduce or even eliminate use of medically important antibiotics, this progress has largely occurred in chicken production,” the authors said.

This is how Chipotle and Panera have stood above the rest: by making sure that pork and beef – in addition to poultry – are raised without antibiotics.

“While we are pleased to see others in our industry follow our lead in this important area, this report shows that there is still more work to be done across the industry,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said in an email.

fast food antibiotics 2017 scoreboard

The credit for most improved goes to KFC, which jumped from an F last year to a B- after committing to phase “medically important” antibiotics out of its chicken supply by the end of 2018. Antibiotics are considered “medically important” for their use in humans, per the World Health Organization.

Subway earned a B+ for working to curtail antibiotics in poultry and meat. However, its plan to do the same with pork and beef was far off in the future in comparison, keeping it from an A.

Earnings Bs and Cs were Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A. All have made moves to reduce antibiotics in their chicken.

McDonald’s also earned a C+, just like last year. The company updated its “Vision for Antibiotic Stewardship” policy in August, saying it planned to pare down unnecessary antibiotic use in all meats. However, the company failed to give a timeline for pork and beef, the new report said.

“We remain committed to making meaningful reductions in the use of antibiotics in beef and pork and will share our progress on beef in 2018,” Marion Gross, senior vice president for McDonald’s North America supply chain, said in a statement.

Pizza Hut “made a token effort,” the report authors said, receiving a D+ for creating policies that affected only a small portion of its chicken. Starbucks earned the same grade for pledging to address antibiotic use in poultry, but not pork or beef.

Earning a D were four chains: Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jack in the Box and Papa John’s. These restaurants committed to limiting antibiotic use in some or all of their chicken. However, the companies’ plans were unclear or, in the case of Papa John’s, unverified by an outside auditor.