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Wendy’s aims for antibiotic-free chicken by next year

(Dave Bedard photo)

U.S. fast food chain Wendy’s aims to source all of its chicken products from birds raised without the use of antibiotics “important to human medicine” by 2017.

Columbus, Ohio-based Wendy’s, the world’s No. 3 burger chain behind McDonald’s and Burger King, said in a blog post Wednesday about 50 per cent of its chicken supply already comes from such sources, and it will aim for 100 per cent “by next year.”

The company’s menu items include various fried and grilled chicken sandwiches and wraps as well as chicken strips and nuggets.

Also in 2017, the company said Wednesday, it will “commit to specific goals for reducing or eliminating medically important antibiotics in our pork and beef supply.”

Eliminating the use of medically important antibiotics in cattle and hogs “is harder to do without compromising animal welfare,” the company said. “Because these animals live longer than chickens, they’re more likely to need antibiotics at some point in their lives.”

But the company said it is “actively working with our suppliers, the academic community and industry experts to find antibiotic alternatives,” citing example such as probiotics, vaccines and feed supplements to either treat infections or reduce the risk of such infections.

In its blog, authored by Wendy’s chief communications officer Liliana Esposito, the company acknowledged some people “may not like this approach.”

Some consumers, the company said, “may prefer that we just pick a date in the future and announce a goal to eliminate all medically important antibiotics by that time, even if we don’t know exactly how we’re going to accomplish that.”

The company noted it recently published a new “Replace-Reduce-Refine” policy statement on antibiotics in meat animals on its website, describing the protection of human health as its “absolute priority.”

Antibiotics, the company said, should only be used to treat a meat animal that “has or is at high risk of developing a medical problem.”

“Good headline”

Wendy’s suppliers, the chain said, are already “prohibited from using antibiotics that are important to human health to make their animals grow,” a practice which involves subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics, often in feed, to stimulate muscle growth.

Scientists in recent years have warned against such uses of antibiotics in animals, out of concern that pathogens could develop resistance to antibiotics and put human and animal health at risk.

A new U.S. federal standard barring such uses of antibiotics is due out later this year, Wendy’s added.

But the company also stressed that removing antibiotics immediately from all food production, “or trying to do so in the near future, is not only impractical but also inhumane,” the company added. “Withholding treatment from a sick animal is cruel and we won’t advocate for it just because it makes a good headline.”

The U.S. regulatory structure on withdrawal times following antibiotic use is “very specific,” the company added. “If an animal is treated with antibiotics, it cannot enter the food supply unless the antibiotics have completely worked through its system.” — Network

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