Other Resource

What's Up With Chipotle's Potential New Antibiotic Standards for Beef?


By Laura Rogers

Chipotle Mexican Grill, one of America’s fastest-growing restaurant chains known for serving responsibly raised food, announced this week that it is considering buying some of its beef  from animals that may have been treated with antibiotics therapeutically. People are trying to figure out what this means, but, long story short: This could be good for consumers, farmers, and animals. 

hhif-beef-300
                                                                                            USDA
Chipotle is considering changing its policies on buying beef.

On livestock farms, antibiotic use falls into two general categories: therapeutic and nontherapeutic. Under therapeutic use, animals are given full doses of antibiotics to treat actual diseases and to keep the illness from spreading. Just as it is appropriate to treat a sick person with an antibiotic, treating sick animals is also warranted.

In contrast, nontherapeutic use means that the animals get low doses of antibiotics routinely, either to promote growth or to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Such uses are inappropriate and do not kill bacteria effectively. Studies also demonstrate that nontherapeutic use of these drugs more readily breeds superbugs, contributing to the antibiotic resistance problem.

Chipotle strives to get all of its meat and poultry from animals that were never given antibiotics. If an animal was being raised for Chipotle and got sick, it would have been given an antibiotic. Then, if it got well, it would have reentered the food supply for sale elsewhere, but not to Chipotle. If the company changes its policy, it will buy some beef that comes from healthy cattle that might have received therapeutic antibiotics. But it still won’t buy meat that comes from livestock that were given antibiotics for growth promotion and other nontherapeutic purposes.

Chipotle CEO Steve Ells said: “Many experts, including some of our ranchers, believe that animals should be allowed to be treated if they are ill and remain in the herd.” We agree. Pew opposes the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics but strongly supports their use to treat sick animals. And Chipotle’s potential new standards would be consistent with this.

In 1998, Denmark banned the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture. Antibiotic use on livestock was halved, meat production increased, and costs remained stable. Other European Union countries and South Korea are also adopting these policies, and all allow therapeutic use of these drugs in food animals.

Chipotle’s potential new standard for beef should be the industry standard in the United States, just as it is in a growing number of countries. Such a standard would make it easier for farmers to use antibiotics to keep animals healthy while also discouraging misuse that endangers public health. And it still leaves room for producers to raise food animals without antibiotics at all—a premium option that some consumers may still prefer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to finalize new policies to move the United States in this direction, but it has not done so yet. To urge President Obama’s administration to put this plan into action, click here.

Laura Rogers directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to reduce antibiotic overuse on industrial farms.

Related Resources

Top Food Companies Moving Away From Overuse of Antibiotics on Industrial Farms

Consumers across the United States are demanding meat and poultry raised without antibiotics—and large producers, restaurants, and other institutions are listening. Following is a list of some leading companies offering responsibly produced food.

More

FDA Reports that 25 of 26 Antibiotic Makers Will Comply with New Policies

On March 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that 25 out of 26 drug companies that sell antibiotics for growth promotion “confirmed in writing their intent to engage with FDA as defined in Guidance #213.” FDA introduced this policy in final form Dec. 11, 2013, to curb antibiotic overuse and increase veterinary oversight on industrial farms. More

200,000+ Americans to FDA: Require Real Veterinary Oversight of Antibiotics on Industrial Farms

Three months ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took an important step to protect people from superbugs. For the first time, it issued a set of proposed policies that would require food producers and feed mills to obtain a veterinarian’s order before adding antibiotics to animal feed or water. More

New FDA Policies on Antibiotics Use in Food Animal Production

Surveys of the animal production industry by the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrate that many farms and ranches administer antibiotics to healthy animals at low doses to offset overcrowding and poor sanitation and to accelerate livestock growth—practices that the medical and public health communities document as a significant factor in human antibiotic resistance. In 2013, FDA took steps to address these concerns.

 

More

MRSA, Football, and Industrial Farms

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of bacteria that can infect a person’s skin, bones, lungs, heart, brain, and blood. Unlike common staph, MRSA does not respond to traditional antibiotics such as penicillin, making it more difficult and costlier to treat, and more lethal.
More

To Stifle Superbugs, Veterinarians are Vital

To prepare for the big game this Sunday, some of America’s top athletes will run drills and watch film to anticipate the other team’s strategy—but even the best players cannot predict what might be their fiercest opposition.
More

Superbug Showdown

Like rivals on the gridiron, superbugs and antibiotic drugs are battling for supremacy. Check out the players on Team Antibiotic and Team Superbug. More

Pew Report Highlights Hidden Costs of Industrialized Poultry Production

Industrialized poultry production in the United States delivers considerable efficiencies, but the same system carries significant, hidden costs for the environment, for many communities where chickens are raised for industrial production, and sometimes for the chicken growers themselves, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
More

FDA Acts to Fight Superbugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a set of policies to curb the overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms. Using these drugs in animals and people contributes to the spread of resistant bacteria that can infect and hospitalize people. About 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in this country are for food animals, and most are used in feed without supervision of a veterinarian. More

New York State PTA Votes to Protect Antibiotics and Children's Health

The New York State Parent Teacher Association made history at its 117th Annual Convention by becoming the first state PTA to take a stand against antibiotic overuse in livestock. On November 16, delegates passed a resolution calling on Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect human health from antibiotic overuse on industrial meat and poultry farms. More

3 Tips for Setting a Sustainable Table This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, as Americans think of family and feasting, consumers can use the opportunity to encourage a food production system that promotes and protects our health.
More

Hospitals Make the Switch to Meat Raised Without Antibiotics

Chris Linaman, executive chef at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, WA, is dedicated to creating a more sustainable food system by supporting growers and producers who raise food without the routine use of antibiotics that endanger the public’s health. Working in partnership with Health Care Without Harm and Overlake’s administration, Chris has created a comprehensive sustainable food purchasing policy for Overlake Hospital that has resulted in many impressive achievements in just a short time.

More

Quiz: Get Smart About Antibiotics on the Farm

November 18-24 is Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, an annual campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that promotes the importance of appropriate antibiotic use. The human health and industrial farming campaign of The Pew Charitable Trust has created an interactive quiz to highlight the overuse of antibiotics in animal food production and test your knowledge of the issue. More

Former FDA Heads Urge White House to Fight Superbugs, Curb Antibiotic Overuse

Two former FDA commissioners – David Kessler (1990-1997) and Donald Kennedy (1977-1979) – wrote to OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell urging her to take action on antibiotics in agricultural feed.

More

SuperChefs Against Superbugs

SuperChefs Against Superbugs, an initiative of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, is a movement of chefs nationwide who have expressed their support of ending the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in food animal production. As a result, the SuperChefs are urging the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen its antibiotic policies.

More