Every year in the United States more than 2 million people get sick due to antibiotic-resistant infections, and at least 23,000 of them die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Common illnesses are becoming more difficult to treat because of increased antimicrobial resistance, and the food we eat plays a major role in this phenomenon. Industry-scale meat and poultry facilities routinely feed tens of thousands of animals antibiotics to help them grow faster and survive cramped conditions, allowing bacteria to adapt and become impervious to known treatments. In a call to action, the National Resources Defense Council published their annual report, Chain Reaction, which report ranks the top 25 U.S. fast-food and casual restaurant chains based on their use of, policies on and transparency regarding antibiotics. Here are the five worst and five best restaurants on their list.
5. WORST: Kentucky Fried Chicken
Colonel Sander’s company came in fifth on the NRDC’s list. In order to come up with their rankings, the authors of Chain Reaction surveyed each company and reviewed their public statements using a scorecard. Restaurants were evaluated based on their antibiotic policies across all meats, “timebound” commitment, availability of meat produced without routine antibiotics and transparency. KFC earned a total of 2 out of a possible 25 points, garnering a failing score of 8 percent.
4. WORST: Arby’s
Maybe the “meats” in Arby’s slogan, “We Have the Meats,” could use a modifier or two, such as “super-secretive” or “totally mysterious.” As the fourth worst restaurant for antibiotics, Arby’s was the only company out of the 25 surveyed to score zero points when it comes to transparency. They were completely unresponsive to the author’s requests for information. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who are being shady. In fact, according to Chain Reaction, more than half of the top 25 restaurants investigated have no disclosed policy on their antibiotic use.
3. WORST: Sonic
This all-American drive-in has a totally un-American approach to antibiotic use, landing them in the top three among U.S. restaurants that are awful when it comes to antibiotics. Why does this matter? Seventy percent of antibiotics that are important for human medical use are sold to meat and poultry farms. “Superbugs,” or antibiotic-resistant bacteria, escape these farms via air, water, soil, meat and workers and make their way onto our tables. If that sounds bad, there’s worse on the way. For the first time, a “super superbug,” resistant to every lifesaving antibiotic available, was found in the U.S. this year.
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2. WORST: Olive Garden
Olive Garden was the runner-up for worst chain restaurant on NRDC’s list, scoring a whopping 4 out of 100. Its support of antibiotic use in the meat and poultry industry, along with everyone else’s, is costing the U.S. a lot. Although estimates vary, according to the CDC, the U.S. economy could be facing an extra $20 billion in direct health care costs, along with an added $35 billion shortfall in lost productivity.
1. WORST: Starbucks Coffee
Welcome to the club of people who were totally shocked and dismayed to discover that this beloved coffee chain is the worst among the top 25 players in the U.S. when it comes to antibiotics. While the company has been lauded in the past for its commitment to competitive employee compensation and corporate responsibility — 95 percent of its coffee is ethically sourced — antibiotics have apparently taken a backseat priority-wise. This coffee giant scored a total of 4 points out of a possible 100. But it’s not all bad. Read on to learn about the five top fast-food and casual restaurants in the U.S. that are winning at the “anti-antibiotic” trend.
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5. BEST: McDonald’s
McDonald’s rounds off the top five best chain restaurants list, coming in fifth. The company got a “C+” grade, scoring 40 out of an available 75 points. McDonald’s landed its place in the top for having good, publicly available policies when it comes to antibiotics. One-hundred percent of its chicken is farmed without the use of antibiotics. However, this golden-arched restaurant lost points because its policies only apply to chicken, while other meats still come from farms that routinely utilize antibiotics for disease prevention.
4. BEST: Chick-fil-A
Chick-fil-A beat McDonald’s for fourth place on the NRDC’s list, earning itself a “B” grade. This chicken empire is reaching out to a more health-conscious audience in a number of ways: It is currently testing menu items that include quinoa, faro, roasted butternut squash and kale in California, Florida and Alabama. But before you go chicken crazy, know that only about 23 percent of the company’s chicken is raised without antibiotics.
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3. BEST: Subway
Subway was the only top company to adopt an antibiotics policy that incorporates every type of meat it serves. This year the sandwich artists began to use antibiotic-free chicken — 67 percent of its chicken is raised without antibiotics — with turkey to follow. Subway has given itself 10 years to go completely antibiotic-free.
2. BEST: Chipotle
Chipotle’s commitment to “food with integrity” is nothing new: Last year hundreds of its restaurants went without pork (its most popular topping, according to ABC News) because one of their major suppliers failed to meet their standards for responsibly raised meat. It’s one of two restaurants on the NRDC’s list (hint: the other came in first) to offer a variety of meats produced without the use of antibiotics.
1. BEST: Panera
Major props to Panera for being the top U.S. fast-casual chain restaurant when it comes to stifling the meat and poultry industry’s use of antibiotics. More than 90 percent of the meat and poultry it serves is raised without antibiotics, and the remaining 9 percent is purchased as a part of secondary products like soups, salamis and souffles. Though Panera is dominating the game, the U.S. still has a long way to go. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the federal government still hasn’t set any national targets for reducing antibiotic use in the meat and poultry industry, and the Federal Drug Administration and CDC policies lack urgency. The committee advises consumers to seek meat options that are raised without antibiotic use and ask restaurant managers where they source their meat when eating out. You can also reach out to restaurants and chains through their websites and social media to request change, as well as to support organizations like the Chain Reaction authors, who hold companies accountable.
What Do YOU Think?
Were you surprised by any of the restaurants on this list? Will this information affect your decisions about the restaurants and chains you eat at? Do you ever pay attention to the way your food is raised? How concerned are you about antibiotic resistance? Let us know in the comments section!
- USA Today: 3 Reasons it’s Hard to Hate Starbucks
- Starbucks: Public Policy & Internal Standards
- National Public Radio: U.N. Pledges to Fight Antibiotic Resistance In Historic Agreement
- Business Insider: Chick-fil-A is going where no fast-food chain has gone before
- ABC News: Chipotle: Why Hundred of Restaurants Don’t Have Pork on the Menu
- Centers for Disease Control: Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013
- National Resources Defense Committee: Chain Reaction
- The Guardian: UN Meeting tackles the ‘fundamental threat’ of antibiotic-resistant superbugs
Hoku Krueger recently graduated from Occidental College with a B.A. in English and Comparative Literature Studies and a minor in French Language Studies. During her time there she wrote for the Occidental Weekly and interned with The Maui News.